Not so much militarily dominate Asia, rather dominate SEA by whatever means, and to achieve the China Dream of being on center stage of the world, to be seen as a globally important nation.
Partly related to that is the need to fix what what happened to China in recent history, to reverse and correct the humiliation meted out to it by foreign powers when China was weaker.
China sees the idea of the 'face' as an important aspect of its culture, and that face has to be shown to be both strong, without weakness, and be shown to be benevolent to those lesser nations who seek its wisdom and help.
This idea of being important and dominant really ramped up with the arrival of Xi Jinping, though in reality it had already started in the South China Seas years before.
It was from 2006 that Beijing began using 'law enforcement' ships to expand its control of large swathes of disputed waters, withdrew from the dispute resolution procedures in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, started production of disputed offshore gas fields, and launched unilateral energy explorations and a campaign of coercion against rival claimants who sought to do the same.
However it is true to say that Xi Jinpng reinvigorated the China appetite for growth beyond its domestic limits, launching a new era of aggressive diplomacy globally and particularly in the South China Sea where before it had been dominated by the United States and to a lesser degree Japan.
China has always felt that it was been humiliated by these and other foreign powers in its past and it seeks to swipe away the memories of these stains upon its history by seizing the opportunity to dominate the region in a post-Cold War land/sea-scape.
Delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, October 18, 2017:
"The Chinese nation, which since modern times began had endured so much for so long, has achieved a tremendous transformation: it has stood up, grown rich, and is becoming strong; it has come to embrace the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation. It means that scientific socialism is full of vitality in 21st century China, and that the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see. It means that the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization. It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development
while preserving their independence; and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind."
"This new era will be an era of building on past successes to further advance our cause, and of continuing in a new historical context to strive for the success of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It will be an era of securing a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and of moving on to all-out efforts to build a great modern socialist country. It will be an era for the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to work together and work hard to create a better life for themselves and ultimately achieve common prosperity for everyone. It will be an era for all of us, the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, to strive with one heart to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. It will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind."
The hallmark of Xi Jinping’s leadership is the China Dream, which he established when he came to power.
Xi Jinping refers to the dream as 'national rejuvenation'.
The way China pursues its dream changes its diplomatic system.
While the dream is not specific about the military’s revival, the China Dream has since emphasised it is based on the idea of a strong military.
Accordingly, China’s foreign policy focuses on national security issues, which provides a more influential role for the military to be involved in foreign policy-making.
While China’s foreign policy is considered aggressive under Xi Jinping, the strategy cannot be separated from Xi’s domestic interest and relates closely to the development of China’s military diplomacy, which has grown since the demise of the Soviet Union and the rise of China's economic power.
Xi Jinping's China Dream consists of the four pillars:
- Strong China (economic, political, diplomatic, scientific, and military),
- Civilised China (equality and fairness, rich culture, high morals),
- Harmonious China (friendship between social classes), and
- Beautiful China (healthy environment and less pollution) (Kuhn, 2013).
Xi refers to the dream as the nationalism spirit of China’s suffering in the ‘century of humiliation’ and China’s glory under party rule.
Xi Jinping sees the China Dream as both China's ‘national revival’ and as China’s 'world power' goal.
Xi Jinping’s insistence on ‘national revival’ sends a message that China resumes its place in the world.
If China does not become a world power, the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be incomplete.
Only when it becomes a world power can we say that the total rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has been achieved.
In the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs, 2014, Xi Jinping proposed to advance multilateral diplomacy by aiming to reform the international system and global governance and to increase the representation of China globally.
At The central conference on work in 2014, Xi announced a new development in China’s foreign policy, laying out a new shift in foreign policy, marking a transformation from Deng Xiaoping’s theory of ‘keeping a low profile’ to an ‘active and creative’ strategy.
In December 2012 Xi stressed a strong military is required for achieving national rejuvenation, following which the army confirmed that “the 'China Dream is the Strong Army Dream', the 'China Dream leads the Strong Army Dream', and the 'Strong Army Dream supports the China Dream'”
In 2015 China publicly revealed China’s Military Strategy White Paper, a change from China’s National Defence since 1998, revealing a strategy of:
- ‘active defence’
- ‘winning informatized local wars’ (information is an instrument in prosecuting and winning wars)
- goal of becoming a maritime power and a more significant Chinese naval presence farther from the People’s Republic’s shores.
If China is to succeed in these, it must dominate in the following domains:
- outer space,
- nuclear forces,
- the oceans.
if Xi Jinping wants to define his leadership by re-asserting and safeguarding maritime territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea and East South China Sea, these issues then become part of China’s foreign policy, meaning that China has to change its national defensive security strategy from what was only 'land defence' to 'active land and sea defence'.
For a long time, China projected its defence posture in the terrestrially-based strategy matching civilian status quo centred diplomacy with land neighbours.
As for its Navy it was always considered a coastal defence, never a blue water navy capable of power projection like the US and other Western and regional (such as Japan) nations employed.
The 2015 China’s Military Strategy White Paper stated that:
The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests. It is necessary for China to develop a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security and development interests, safeguard its national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, protect the security of strategic SLOCs and overseas interests, and participate in international maritime cooperation, so as to provide strategic support for building itself into a maritime power.
China’s National Defence in the New Era, 2019:
“China’s military role has shifted toward safeguarding China’s overseas interest and international peace. China’s military modernization is primary to safeguard its territory and sovereignty, aiming to dismiss the ‘China’s threat’ allegation.
It acknowledged China’s need to protect its investment and citizens overseas in the new era”
The 18th CCP Congress has reclassified the South China Sea as a national core interest.
China has a preference for bilateral diplomacy, to be seen as having a ‘great power mentality’ that opposes allying with other nations since it is regarded as a policy taken by a small country.
Meanwhile retaining Chinese ’horizontal link’ tradition, seeking treaties of alliances one by one with its opponent parties by using divide-and-conquer methods.
China uses military diplomacy (shown in aggressive military tactics in the SCS) as a key tool for advancing its whole diplomatic goals.
"China’s sovereignty and relevant rights over the South China Sea have been formed over the long course of history.”