China Is the Number One Threat to American Maritime Dominance, Navy Says

A new U.S. Navy report has pegged China as America's number one long-term strategic threat and the most pressing challenge to continued U.S. dominance of the seas, particularly in Asia.

The Navy's Advantage at Sea report was released Thursday, offering a comprehensive review of American maritime strategy and future challenges. It is the first such document produced since 2015.

The introduction of the report explains that it "focuses on China and Russia, the two most significant threats to this era of global peace and prosperity."

Still, the Navy says it is Beijing, not Moscow, that is the greatest cause for concern. "We prioritize competition with China due to its growing economic and military strength, increasing aggressiveness, and demonstrated intent to dominate its regional waters and remake the international order in its favor," it reads.

"Until China chooses to act as a responsible stakeholder rather than brandish its power to further its authoritarian interests, it represents the most comprehensive threat to the United States, our allies, and all nations supporting a free and open system."

The Chinese Communist Party has been plowing money into revamping its armed forces, turning a mammoth but low-tech Cold War force into a modern offering with cutting-edge technology capable of force projection.

Beijing has scaled up its military spending significantly, though its estimated annual spend of around $261 billion is still dwarfed by America's $686 billion in the same period.

Regardless, China's rapid military expansion and assertiveness in historic territorial disputes—for example the South China Sea, Taiwan and the Himalayas—has set American military officials and lawmakers on edge.

China's new navy—increasingly referred to as a "blue water" force capable of long-distance operations—is at the heart of Beijing's strategy, the ultimate goal of which is regional dominance and the end of U.S. hegemony in Asia.

Dominion over the contested South China Sea and the independent democratic island of Taiwan are central to Beijing's vision, prompting the U.S. to push back on both.

The strategic contest with China has long been recognized by foreign policy experts and lawmakers, but has begun to crystallize in public under President Donald Trump and amid the coronavirus pandemic.

President-Elect Joe Biden has also vowed to push back on Chinese territorial expansion, malign trade practices, and human rights abuses once he is in office. Most experts see the China challenge as a generational contest, not just a flash-in-the-pan rivalry.

The Navy report says the service will be a key part of the American strategy. "China has implemented a strategy and revisionist approach that aims at the heart of the United States' maritime power," the report read.

"It seeks to corrode international maritime governance, deny access to traditional logistical hubs, inhibit freedom of the seas, control use of key chokepoints, deter our engagement in regional disputes, and displace the United States as the preferred partner in countries around the world."

China submarine PLA Navy investment parade threat
A Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy submarine is pictured during a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the service near Qingdao, in eastern China's Shandong province on April 23, 2019. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty