The Chinese have long understood that America’s sea control in the western Pacific has been the military foundation of its strategic primacy in Asia, and that the US Navy’s carriers are the key. They have therefore focused the formidable expansion of their naval and air forces over the past 20 years on trying to deprive the US of sea control by developing their capacity to sink American carriers. In this they appear to have been strikingly successful, to the point that US military leaders now acknowledge that their sea control in the western Pacific is slipping away.
But for China, depriving America of sea control is not the same as acquiring it themselves. Its naval strategy has focused on the much more limited aim that strategists call ”sea denial”: the ability to attack an adversary’s ships without being able to stop them attacking yours. These days, sea denial can be achieved without putting ships to sea, because land-based aircraft, long-range missiles and submarines can sink ships much more cost-effectively than other ships can. This is what China has done.