After the deaths of Zhou Enlai (January 1976) and Mao Zedong (September 1976), leaders of the Chinese Revolution, Deng Xiaoping endured the pressure exerted by the Gang of Four and was restored to power for the third time in July 1977. Deng wrote the Four Modernizations (March 1978) into the new constitution and established diplomatic relations between China and the United States (January 1979). However, when the Regan administration of the United States began to show signs of restrengthening its relationship with Taiwan(Note 4), Deng ordered General Liu Huaqing (General in the Chinese Navy; Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1989 to 1997 (position held by top uniformed personnel)) to implement the First Island Chain doctrine (August 1982). Accordingly, China became interested in constructing a navy for maritime expansion. The principal theme of the People’s Liberation Army, and also the principal raison d’etre for said army, underwent a major transition from protecting Chinese-Soviet (Russian) borders to annexation of Taiwan—when making an analogy to irredenta Italia (unredeemed Italy), Taiwan is considered as unredeemed China. China viewed America as protecting Taiwan, and America therefore replaced the Soviet Union (Russia) as China’s greatest hypothetical enemy. From the establishment of the Chinese nation until the beginning of the 1980s, the Chinese navy was essentially limited to a coastguard organization charged with protecting a coastline said to stretch 16,000 kilometers. However, almost in conjunction with the country’s economic growth, the Chinese navy modernized itself with intense consciousness for the movement of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
Liu created a plan for the construction of a modern navy. According to that plan, (1) during the 18-year period from 1982 to 2000, the Chinese navy would make preparations to completely protect the Chinese coastal zone, (2) from 2000 to 2010, China would establish naval supremacy in the interior regions of the First Island Chain (Chinese coastal waters), (3) from 2010 to 2020, China would establish naval supremacy in the interior regions of the Second Island Chain, constructing aircraft carriers to achieve that goal, (4) from 2020 to 2040, China would break the monopoly of the American navy on the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, and (5) in 2040, China would ultimately complete the construction of a navy which could oppose the American navy.
In February 1992, an era corresponding to phase (1) of the above plan, China enacted the Law of the People’s Republic of China Concerning the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, which defined the Senkaku Islands, the Paracel Islands, and the Spratly Islands as Chinese territory. Then, in March 1997, China enacted the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense, which clearly stated strict defense of maritime interests. Also in 1997, Shi Yunsheng succeeded the position of General from Liu. In conjunction with promulgation of the aforementioned Law on National Defense, Shi established a strategy to expand the Chinese navy from a coastal navy to a modern navy. This strategy clearly stated the concepts of the First Island Chain and Second Island Chain(Note 5). Of course, these concepts were initially national defense policy inside of the military. However, the concepts gradually became widely recognized throughout the world as the fundamental defense policy of the Communist Party of China.
On March 14, 2005, an era corresponding to phase (2) of the plan, the National People’s Congress adopted the Anti-Secession Law and put the law into effect immediately. This law formalized the use of non-peaceful means to prevent the Taiwan independence movement in the event that Taiwan declares independence, and it was enacted in order to restrain the strong inclination towards independence as shown by the administration of Chen Shui-bian. The law was met with strong resistance from Taiwan. Next, on December 26, 2009, the National People’s Congress adopted the Island Protection Law, which is intended (1) to restrict development of islands near the continental coast, (2) to prevent destruction of ecosystems, and (3) to protect national maritime interests. The law was put into effect on March 1, 2010(Note 6). On February 26, 2010, the National People’s Congress legislated the National Defense Mobilization Law, which went into effect on July 1, 2010. This law was formulated based on the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense (March 1997). Assuming the occurring of a contingency within China, the law gives the National People’s Congress Standing Committee the power to issue a mobilization order for all males from the age of 18 to 60 and all females from the age of 18 to 55, and to requisition the goods and production facilities of private citizens and organizations.
Currently, 2016 corresponds to phase (3) of the plan. However, since the targets defined in phase (2) have not yet been achieved, it appears that Chinese President Xi Jinping and the People’s Liberation Army (particularly the navy) are growing impatient. This impatience is manifesting in the hard-line and one-way policy for the South China Sea and Senkaku Islands.