Tuesday November 17, 2009
The Maritime Transformation of Ming China
Andrew R. Wilson, Professor of Strategy and Policy, U.S. Naval War College
Unlike those continental powers that have elected or been impelled to transform themselves into significant maritime powers, Ming China, it is generally believed, very rapidly turned its back on the sea and squandered its opportunity to be the dominant maritime power in Asia, if not the world. As with all conventional wisdom, there is some element of truth to this narrative. More fundamentally, however, Ming China is the unique case of a continental power blessed with sufficient wealth, raw materials, technological acumen, and native talent to emerge rapidly as a sea power. Few premodern empires could rival the Ming’s wealth, talent, or strategic flexibility, but the Ming was also plagued by systemic flaws and fundamental ideological and institutional paradoxes that prevented it from sustaining a dominant maritime edge.
China’s Maritime Transformation
Andrew S. Erickson
, Associate Professor, Strategic Research, U.S. Naval War College
China’s turn toward the sea is evident in its stunning rise in global shipbuilding markets, wide ranging merchant marine, expansive offshore energy exploration, growing fishing fleet, and increasingly modern navy. From its recent challenging of USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea to its counter-piracy deployment in the Gulf of Aden, China’s navy is receiving increasing attention. But analysts and policy makers alike remain deeply divided as to Beijing’s prospects as a sea power. History offers valuable insights; many continental powers have elected or been impelled to transform themselves into significant maritime powers in order to safeguard their strategic position or advance their interests. Cases from the Persian Empire to the Soviet Union, as well as China’s unique advantages, suggest that it has turned the corner on a genuine maritime transformation. This would be an extraordinary event in the history of the last two millennia, with tremendous ramifications for the world.
Moderator: Robert Ross, Professor of Political Science, Boston College
Discussant: Lyle J. Goldstein, Associate Professor, U.S. Naval War College
The presenters are affiliated with the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. These lectures draw on their recently-published edited volume, China Goes to Sea: Maritime Transformation in Comparative Historical Perspective (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, July 2009). This volume is the third in the series, “Studies in Chinese Maritime Development,” following China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing’s Maritime Policies (2008) and China’s Future Nuclear Submarine Force (2007).
CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Belfer Case Study Room, S020,Cambridge, MA 02138