Regaining the Initiative in the South China Sea


To endeavor to seize the strategic initiative in military struggle, proactively plan for military struggle in all directions and domains, and grasp the opportunities to accelerate military building, reform and development.

Chinese Military Strategy, Chinese Ministry of National Defense, May 26, 2015.

On May 26, the State Council Information Office released an English-language version of the Chinese Military Strategy. Short, sweet, and immensely more readable than its American counterpart, the PRC’s military strategy is notable for its transition to an overt, “active defense” posture for Chinese military forces. Among the many salient points is the emphasis on gaining the strategic initiative, which is one of eight specified strategic tasks for the Chinese military.

This is not a new development, but recent activities in the South China Sea (SCS) illustrate the reality that China has already seized the strategic initiative in those waters. Force dispositions in the SCS make it clear that the PRC has no intention of surrendering the initiative. A passive U.S. response will only continue to demonstrate to China the usefulness of its approach, while traditional flexible deterrent options are both unnecessarily provocative and likely to be ineffective. A comprehensive, long-term engagement and modernization strategy focused on Partner Nation (PN) and U.S. airpower may provide an opportunity for the U.S. to reverse PRC gains in the SCS and prevent further gains.

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