In a November 8 column, U.S. Naval War College Professor James R. Holmes (aka the Naval Diplomat) criticized a new National Defense University (NDU) report on Chinese overseas basing that I and a team of analysts published in October 2014. Holmes mischaracterizes the report’s findings as concluding “there’s little reason to expect China to seek bases in the Indian Ocean” and criticizes it for “linear thinking” and “straight-line analysis.” In fact, the report argues that China’s expanding global interests will generate increased demands for out-of-area naval operations and predicts that China is likely to establish at least one “dual-use” civilian/military base to provide logistics support for increased People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operations. The report also concludes that the so-called “string of pearls” model of covert access to commercial ports built with Chinese investment is unable to support a robust, combat-oriented Chinese naval presence in the India Ocean. The report argues that it would not make strategic sense for the Chinese to pursue such a course.
The NDU report is titled “Not An Idea We Have to Shun: Chinese Overseas Basing Requirements for the Twenty First Century” and was written by Ross Rustici and me with research assistance from Scott Devary and Jenny Lin. We examined China’s growing foreign economic and security interests abroad; posited which interests needed to be protected and would generate PLA missions; surveyed press reports and statements by government officials about overseas bases; looked at writings by Chinese civilian and military analysts; and conducted interviews with logistics experts. We concluded that China’s current method of protecting its interests abroad by relying solely on commercial port access was unsatisfactory from a Chinese perspective, which suggests change is likely. A number of Chinese commentators agree with this conclusion.