Experts attempting to understand the strategic aims behind China’s aggressive military expansion have generally focused on Taiwan. But a new naval base points at Beijing’s significant and growing interest in projecting power into waters far from the Taiwan Strait. China, in fact, is equipping itself to assert its longstanding and expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea, and this plan could raise tensions well beyond the region.
The new base is near Sanya, a city on the southern tip of Hainan Island. It’s an ideal place for a naval base, and a significant expansion compared to the nearby naval base in the port city of Yulin. Sanya features much larger piers for hosting a large fleet of surface warships, a new underground base for submarines and comfortable facilities that would attract technically proficient soldiers and sailors. Its location will allow China to exert greater dominance over disputed territories of the South China Sea; to place a much larger naval force closer to sea lanes crucial to Asia’s commercial lifeblood; and to exercise influence over the critical Straits of Malacca.