From its origins as a coastal-defense force, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN) has emerged as a blue-water navy capable of projecting power throughout the Asian littoral and into distant regions.1 A focus of the PLAN’s overseas deployments has been on foreign engagement, including senior-leader exchanges, port visits, and exercises with foreign partners. It is no surprise that the navy—with its mission to protect China’s interests in the “far seas” and its ability to deploy forces far afield for extended periods—has become the PLA service most involved in what commonly is referred to as military diplomacy. These engagements can be useful both for strategic and for operational reasons. Strategically, they help China to shape the security environment and finesse relations with key partners, while operationally China gains experience through interactions with foreign navies and performs intelligence-collecting activities.
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Joel Wuthnow is a senior research fellow in the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University and an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He is the lead editor of Crossing the Strait: China’s Military Prepares for War with Taiwan (NDU Press, 2022).
Margaret Baughman is a data and language intelligence analyst at SOS International’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. She is a recent graduate of Princeton University, where her senior thesis won the prize for the best contributions to U.S. foreign policy.
The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.