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Naval War College (NWC) professors Andrew Erickson, Lyle Goldstein and Carnes Lord recently released a new collaborative work, “China Goes to Sea: Maritime Transformation in Comparative Historical Perspective.” All three are members of NWC's Strategic Research Department (SRD). Dr. Goldstein is the director, and Dr. Erickson a founding member, of SRD’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI).              

The book is the third in CMSI’s series of collected scholarly essays on China’s increasing maritime power, published through the U.S. Naval Institute. Previous titles include “China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing’s Maritime Policies,” and “China’s Future Nuclear Submarine Force." All three books are available on the U.S. Navy Institute's website.

“History has shown that it is very difficult to transition from being a continental power to a maritime power,” said Erickson. The book serves largely as an historical study, comparing China’s transition to other countries’ attempted transitions from continental to marine powers. Examples explored in the book include the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, and France. A set of China-focused chapters surveys both the country’s surprisingly rich maritime traditions and its current civil and military maritime capabilities.

Lord explained that the authors found parallels between the French and Chinese transitions, adding that China could learn a lot by studying France’s transition from a continental to a maritime power.

“Maritime power is in many ways a new concept for China, as it was for France,” said Lord. “Both countries have long sea coasts, and neither country’s navy had been really central to its defense.”                       

Erickson said the transition may be easier for China than it was for other countries. The country already has a strong shipbuilding industry and a robust maritime commercial sector that France and other countries lacked. Erickson suggests that this could allow China to succeed where other land powers have failed.                                                                                                                       

“China is increasingly influential in world affairs, not only in global trade but also in military and maritime issues,” said Erickson, explaining that chapters from “China Goes to Sea” are being added to the NWC curriculum for the 2009-10 academic year. “Students who learn about this now will be much better prepared to engage with their Chinese counterparts on the high seas.”
By Sarah Smith, Naval War College Public Affairs