Strangulation: the context, conduct and consequences of the American naval blockade of China

The growing threat posed by the military modernization of the PRC has highlighted the need for the United States to analyze its ability to implement a naval blockade. It is important to have a strategy for this blockade, but it will remain in the context of a broader conflict over the vital interests of the States and they will need the support of key regional powers. The United States will also need to use a mixed blockade model - both direct and remote, because otherwise the outcome of the conflict may be at risk. The blockade can have a devastating effect on government and the economy of China.


Since the Second World War, the United States has always sought to secure military dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States did not use its advantage for expansion, but to maintain regional stability through containment. For more than fifty years, they have managed to maintain control over global resources for this mission. Even today, the United States remains the region’s most powerful military actor. But American domination is melting along with the rapid implementation of Chinese military modernization and, as a result, the military balance of power in the region is changing (1). Since the middle of the 90 of the last century, the People’s Liberation Army of China (NOA) has been developing a set of measures to close access and airspace in the near seas, which was called A2 / AD (2). As China continues to strengthen its A2 / AD system, it is beginning to pose a significant threat to the operations of the US military in the region. At the beginning of the conflict, some part of the US Army may be hampered in operations in the near seas. Even without it, the Chinese A2 / AD complex threatens America’s interests in maintaining containment systems and regional stability.

The growing threat from the east forced the States to review their existing military strategies and develop new ones. Among them, the idea of ​​a naval blockade deserves the greatest interest. The blockade will allow China to play an enormous dependence on foreign trade — especially oil — to weaken the Chinese state. A well-organized blockade could become a formidable tool of American power, leveling the weight of the Chinese system A2 / AD. The blockade will also give the US a lever to regulate the degree of escalation of the conflict, which can be combined with other military strategies (3).

Even if the blockade is never applied, its viability will affect the American and Chinese lines. The US regional strategy is based on the assumption that the real balance in the military sphere does not allow anyone to change the status quo by force, which strengthens trust between the allies and supports strategic stability. The success of the blockade depends on the whole alignment of forces, as well as military and non-military actions that will be undertaken by China and the United States. If the naval blockade is feasible, it will reinforce American containment policy and will not allow China to thwart the plans of the United States or its allies.

Despite the obvious importance of working through the blockade issue, the existing literature is insufficient and does not provide a complete picture (4). Although regional security experts often talk about the likelihood of a blockade, there is not yet a single point of view about its strategic and operational success. Several works were written, very insightful and original, but they show a very limited picture and are content with only the most general details. To date, no one has conducted comprehensive public research on the prospects for the blockade, despite the exceptional importance of such a study for the Pacific-Asian military balance, regional deterrence and stability, and US military strategy.

This is partly due to the fact that the strategies of economic war are fundamentally erroneous because of the close commercial ties between China and the United States. But if a serious conflict flared up between the two nations, the interests of their immediate security would quickly outweigh their trade interdependence and cause great economic harm to both parties, regardless of whether the blockade was applied or not.

This article aims to fill the void in the literature, starting the discussion that is necessary now about the viability of the idea of ​​the American naval blockade of China and its context, conduct and consequences (5). Although the sea blockade itself can never be unacceptable or impracticable, as a tool in the American arsenal, it can only be used in a very narrow framework.

At first, the blockade would ensure the achievement of goals only in the event of a widespread Sino-US conflict over vital interests.

Secondly, the success of the blockade will depend heavily on the support of Russia, even better in India and Japan. With regard to Moscow, such support is not very likely, unless China does not behave badly, threatening the security of its neighbors and thereby throwing them into the arms of America. Third, in order not to worsen the overall strategic position, the United States will need to conduct a two-echelon blockade in order to achieve two main operational objectives: differentiation and neutralization. Fourthly, although the blockade will not worsen the effectiveness of the PLA, it will help the American forces to rally out the Chinese leadership in the context of a big war, which should lead Beijing to make hard decisions about the allocation of limited resources.

In the first In its section, the article provides the initial strategic context of the blockade strategy, and also describes the role it will play in the entire American military campaign.

Second section dedicated to the tactical implementation of the two-echelon blockade, including a rough sketch of the balance of power.

In the third section describes some of the primary effects of the blockade, especially on the Chinese army, economy and society. The article ends with a short description of the factors of regional stability.

Strategic blockade context

The Chinese economy is heavily dependent on maritime trade, especially with regard to oil imports. Supporting the reputation of the “factory of the world”, China needs to import raw materials in order to produce goods for export. Trade is the dominant export-oriented economy in China, accounting for 52,1% of GDP (90% of which is the sea) (6). The People's Republic of China is the world's largest exporter of industrial products (1,6 trillion dollars in 2010), but it is also the world's second largest importer of industrial products (1,4 trillion dollars in 2010) and the world's third largest importer of natural resources (330 billion dollars in 2008) ( 7). What is surprising is that China’s energy security is closely linked to the import of oil. In 2011, China bought almost 60% of oil abroad — an impressive 5,7 million barrels per day — and 90% of them were delivered to their destination by sea (8). The country is strongly and unconditionally dependent on oil in the industrial and transport sector and will become even more dependent in the foreseeable future (9). China’s Achilles heel, if any, is imported oil (10).

During the Sino-American War, the United States could try to turn China’s main strength — its export-oriented, booming growth model — to its main weakness in wartime conditions. Sea blockade is needed for this. Under favorable conditions, America has a chance to weaken the Chinese economy so much that it will force the top of the PRC to beg for peace talks (11).

It should be borne in mind that although the blockade will help to have a devastating effect on China, its effectiveness will be limited by some strategic circumstances. The blockade will be most effective in the long struggle for vital interests. Its success will also be inextricably linked with the position that China’s neighbors will take and with the broader regional political context.

The nature of the conflict

The United States may be involved with China in an unrestricted war, a limited war or a “wide” war that two forces are waging, and it is reasonable to use the blockade only in the latter case. The United States will never have to use the blockade in the event of an unlimited war, because such a conflict — where all means are good — can arise only as a result of a complete breakdown of nuclear deterrence. China and the United States will be forced to adjust their behavior in wartime in order to avoid the horrific consequences of a nuclear conflict, which puts a kind of upper frame in the arsenal of potentially possible goals and means.

On the other hand, the United States will not blockade during a limited conflict. In a similar war, the US military would fight for the important, but not vital, interests of America. Therefore, such an expensive tool as a blockade will not be used, unless as a passive strategy of keeping China within its borders or demonstrating US superiority in deciding the outcome of the campaign.

But if the United States began to believe that the conflict affects their vital interests, they would readily suffer more and make greater efforts to ensure their victory (12). Washington would not have stopped international pressure either. The seriousness of the call would strengthen the political will of the States and would give room for maneuver among its own voters to justify a protracted conflict.

It should be recognized that the separation of conflicts into “limited” and “wide” is purely conditional, but it vividly shows the conditions under which a blockade would become practically possible. Together, following a pre-written scenario, the American leadership will have to, in practice, assess the severity of the situation and the need to use the blockade.

But even if the blockade is used, America should be prepared for the fact that it will not necessarily be able to break China quickly and decisively. China could rely on its internal reserves and resources to wait out the blockade (13). But if the States want a long war, then the implementation of the blockade strategy will become more appropriate, as it will provide a material blow as the conflict develops.

American War of attrition

Given the context of the upcoming conflict - in particular the impossibility of a blitzkrieg - the United States will be forced to resort to the Fabia strategy as part of the war of attrition.

The strength of the country is related to resources and technology (15). Even if the States succeeded in smashing Chinese troops on the front lines, the Chinese would assemble and send new troops to the front from the depths of their rear. Consequently, the US needs to pay attention to the state of affairs outside the immediate field of battle: they should understand that the war of attrition does not win on the battlefield as such; instead, it ends only when one of the parties can no longer maintain the rhythm of war.

The blockade can be an effective way to wage a war of attrition, because it can hit the origins of China’s national power. It will also contribute to the achievement of an ambitious goal: to win the war against the superpower without an actual ground invasion, which is fundamentally different from the tactics of past conflicts, when it was the invasion that was necessary to defeat the states. Of course, one blockade of the capitulation of the Chinese regime is unlikely to be achieved, however, its combination with other military activities, such as the war on the front edge of Chinese territory, will do more than just weaken the Chinese state.

As part of the war of attrition, the blockade strategy will lead Beijing to the peace negotiating table in two possible ways (16).

First, it will deprive China of domination in a military conflict to such an extent that the subsequent defeat will become obvious, and the further struggle - a meaningless waste of resources. Secondly, the disunited unity of the Chinese state, the blockade strategy will raise far more terrible challenges for Beijing than even a direct military defeat, which will force the communist leaders to pray for peace.

For example, as soon as Beijing is forced to deprive the apparatus of domestic state security of resources, it may face the frightening prospect of a revolution or civil war, each of which threatens the Chinese state much more than even a declaration of military defeat.

The importance of third parties

In light of these strategic benefits, the blockade is a potentially effective way to exert pressure on Beijing. However, with all its advantages, it has a big disadvantage: it requires the assistance of several third parties.

Chinese trade with the outside world is conducted by sea, not because of physical restrictions, but purely on the basis of economic reasons. If Beijing is lined up from the sea, it will simply transfer imports to the land, continuing to receive the oil and goods it needs. Therefore, for success, America needs to gain its support from China’s neighbors on land.

Among China’s neighbors, only Russia and Kazakhstan produce enough oil to mitigate the effects of the American blockade for China. Russia is the world's largest oil producer and it produces enough oil - more than 10 million barrels per day - to meet the needs of all of China (17). Kazakhstan produces a little less than two million barrels per day and it would also be great to help China loosen the oil noose (18). It is generally accepted that China is currently capable of importing about 500000 barrels of oil per day through Russian and Kazakh oil pipelines. But if China’s demand for oil increases substantially - as in the case of a sea blockade - then China will undoubtedly be willing to pay a higher price for transporting Russian and Kazakh oil by rail and road. Although China will inevitably face many infrastructure problems, it will nevertheless be able to cover some of its needs.

Some other Chinese neighbors may act as transit points for goods and resources produced outside their borders, albeit on a limited scale.

Generally speaking, China can import via three subregional transit routes: the Central Asian route (via Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan), the route through southwest Asia (Afghanistan or Pakistan), or the route through south-east Asia (through Burma or Laos) (19) .

In theory, Beijing could use any of these countries with access to international markets as a transit route for its imports. However, it should be noted that the infrastructure associated with these three ways is not intended for transporting large volumes of goods to China and may become overloaded due to an increase in imports. In particular, the Central Asian way and the way through southwest Asia will be very difficult because of the vast mountain ranges that serve as a kind of fence separating China from its western neighbors. Consequently, these countries could only to a limited extent ease the burden of the blockade.

Regional political context

Given the critical importance of third-party conflict, the United States will have to create an appropriate regional political context for success. For this, the States need by any means to force China’s neighbors to impose an embargo on it. Sometimes it will be relatively easy. Countries like India and Vietnam have a long history military conflicts with China and therefore they fear the rise of the PRC as a regional hegemon. In some cases, America will have to resort to military force to cut off supply lines. For example, if Burma refuses to cooperate, the United States will blow up the Sino-Burmese oil and gas pipeline or even block the ports of Burma.

In a broader sense, the United States should try to change the political agenda of China’s neighbors and convince them that tacit support for US actions coincides with their own strategic interests. In this regard, it is important to blame anyone for military conflict (20).

If the war is viewed as caused by American aggression and initiative, then the countries of the region will quickly side with China because of fear, and this will fail American efforts.

If, on the contrary, the conflict will be perceived as provoked by China’s actions, many countries in the region — some of which are crucial to the success of the campaign — will side with the US (In this context, it is worth remembering the reasons why Japan was attacked by the US 7 December 1941 of the year - approx . "Hvili")
During the active phase of the conflict, China and the United States will fight for influence over regional public opinion and the one who presents a more convincing narrative will reap the rewards of success. In this regional battle of perception, America’s remoteness from East Asia will play into its hands, as it will look less frightening, especially considering China rising alongside.

It is especially important for the United States to focus on ensuring the correct perception of reality in the three neighboring countries of the PRC - the Russian Federation, India and Japan - which will subsequently close down alternative trade channels.

In particular, Russia will be a sine qua non for a successful blockade of China and it will be able to sway the balance in favor of both China and the United States (21).

On the one hand, Russia is well located to facilitate the blockade for China. Russian trade will be outside the US prohibitions, because the nuclear arsenal of the Russian Federation and numerous conventional weapons will not allow the use of military coercion.

If the United States does not act wisely enough, Russia may come to confrontation on the Chinese side. But on the other hand, China’s northern neighbor may bury Chinese plans to repel the blockade.

Politically, Moscow still has an influence on decision-making in the capitals of China’s Central Asian neighbors. With the complicity of Russia, the United States will certainly succeed in persuading Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and potentially Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, to reject the proposals of the Chinese leadership to become transit countries.

In short, Russia is not only the best assistant of China in overcoming the American blockade, but also the key for America in blocking the transit route through Central Asia and preventing the supply of petroleum products from the two oil-producing neighboring countries of the Middle Kingdom. In the case of the Chinese blockade of China, the role of Russia can not be overestimated, as evidenced by the fact that "no blockade of China in history has been successful without the connivance of Russia" (22).

Secondly, the US can profitably use India, the vast country south of China, to create a second arc, stretching from the subcontinent through southeast Asia.

Neither Russia nor India will be involved in military operations, they will be assigned a role in helping America achieve its goals by imposing an embargo and forcing its smaller neighbors to do the same.

Third, the US will need Japan’s high-profile fleet to supplement its own forces for the blockade, especially in the Pacific.

Similarly, in order for the US to effectively blockade China, they need to create a “minimal coalition” with Russia, India, and Japan. If all three countries agreed to act with America at the same time, China would be in complete economic and political isolation. If this does not happen, the blockade strategy regionalizes the Sino-American war, which will be extremely unfavorable for American interests.

Having stagnation in the Russian-American relations and the rise in the Chinese-Russian relations, it is not easy to imagine Russia as an ally of the United States (23). However, some Russian military officials often express concern about the uncontrolled growth of China as a regional force and its creeping penetration into the Russian Far East (24). Pressure from growing China may give impetus to Russian-American reconciliation in the near future, as Russian leaders may judge that growing China is more dangerous than the restless, but distant States.

The collective embargo of the four countries will face the inevitable threat of tension with China. Therefore, the formation of a common policy of "blocking" does not seem likely without the awareness of each side of the seriousness of the threat posed by China in the future (25).

Although this possibility seems too distant, the United States, Japan, India, and Russia fear that one day Beijing will want to use force to protect its interests and to resolve security issues on favorable conditions (26). All four countries minimize the risks of this through broad cooperation with each other. With the exception of the tense relations of the Russian Federation with the United States, the rest of the countries are in excellent, if not to say friendly, relations with each other. If China’s growing influence in Asia grows, the bonds between the four countries will be strengthened, not so much because of the fear of aggression from China, but because of the uncertainty in their future situation.

Operational blockade

If a conflict breaks out within a given strategic context, the United States could blockade in several different ways. The article further describes a situation in which the United States was embroiled in a wide “extensive” conflict with China over vital interests, and the United States enjoys the tacit support of its neighbors in China, including Russia, India and Japan. Taking these assumptions, the analysis describes the optimal strategy for individuals who develop American policies. Of course, if a real conflict begins, America will have to adjust the scenario to the real conditions of opposition.

Main operational difficulty

From the operational point of view, the blockades are characterized by distancing from the coast of the blockaded state and are divided into near and far. The near blockade is usually carried out by placing a cordon of warships near the enemy shore to detect all sailing and departing merchant ships and confiscating those carrying smuggling. However, over the past century and a half, nearby blockades have become very dangerous, as coastal firepower has been developed. In response, countries began to use long-distance blockades. The ships still cut the trade routes of the enemy, but at the same time they are at a certain distance.

Strangulation: the context, conduct and consequences of the American naval blockade of China

The success of the blockade is measured in the achievement of two main tasks: sorting the neutral and enemy fleet and neutralizing the enemy fleet. Strictly speaking, sorting is an operational condition for the blockade, since the blocking party could destroy all trade vehicles without distinction, which would undoubtedly be very effective. In practice, this behavior overshadows the neutrals, which can have far-reaching consequences.

Neither the near or far blockades alone guarantee the fulfillment of two main tasks due to military restrictions and the nature of maritime commerce. On the one hand, the conventional close blockade will make it very difficult for the US to minimize military losses. When approaching American ships to the coast, they fall into the affected area of ​​the complex A2 / AD. If you use submarines, long-range aircraft and mines, you will not be able to sort out.

On the other hand, the logic of conventional long-range blockades no longer fits into modern trade requirements. Today, cargoes of raw materials and goods can be sold and resold many times while the ship is still in transit, because the final owner and port of destination sometimes remain unknown until the moment of mooring. In other words, the idea of ​​"enemy trade" is no longer applicable. Even if the United States blocks all ships under the Chinese flag, China will be able to easily charter neutral ships that cannot fall under the blockade, thereby depriving it of any meaning.

To eliminate the shortcomings of the two blockades, the United States can use the idea of ​​a “two ring” blockade. In the center of it will be the so-called. An “inner ring”, which will be an unconventional near blockade, aimed mainly at neutralizing ships connected with China, without the need to board them. Such tactics will obviously lead to many political difficulties, since it will not allow effectively and peacefully neutralizing violators of the blockade or differentiating between various courts. Consequently, the US will have to introduce a second, “outer ring” blockade to resolve the political challenges of the “inner ring”. Unlike the inner ring, the outer one will consist mainly of warships, whose main task will be to sort the various regional merchant ships with greater accuracy and action by non-lethal methods. By doing so, the outer ring will help achieve two key objectives, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the blockade. The outer ring is needed not for the operational success of the blockade, but to provide a strategic picture.

Inner blockade ring - lethal neutralization

Organization of the inner blockade ring

In light of China’s A2 / AD complex, the United States is organizing an internal blockade ring as an impassable closed zone off the Chinese coast (27). Unlike the conventional blockade, a closed area is not semi-accessible, and is not aimed at disabling or confiscating ships. Instead, a closed area is a section declared to be prohibited for commercial ships, which is punishable by fire with any penetration. In the outline of the American blockade, the US will have to establish a closed zone as close to the coast of China as possible, in order to avoid harming neutral ships. However, if they still fall into a closed area, they will be immediately sunk (28).

The United States will control the closed zone with the help of torpedo submarines, long-range aircraft and mines, since these are exactly the means that can act without fear of being hit by the Chinese complex A2 / AD. Submarines can successfully operate to defeat ships, given the fact that China remains relatively weak in countering submarines (29). Traditionally, China has not sufficiently developed a multi-level anti-submarine system, and this weakness will be further strengthened by the nature of the environment in which the inner block will act: the shallow waters off the coast of China make it difficult for sonars, the primary sensors used to combat submarines, to detect submarines. The conclusion is that “China’s ability to close access to American nuclear torpedo submarines (SSN) and nuclear-powered submarines with controlled torpedoes (SSGN) is very limited and currently American submarines are free to operate in Chinese coastal waters” (30). The airspace will obviously be more controversial. However, the Americans could use stealth, remote and cyber capabilities mixed tactics to penetrate the airspace of the near seas, hit targets and then leave the zone before Chinese air defense forces can respond.

In order to form a closed zone, submarines will be concentrated near the coasts and main ports of China, in order to work together with aviation, located on the periphery of the seas nearest to China. The USA and Japan have a 71 torpedo submarine at a time; if 1 / 3 stands inside the inner ring - and if two countries do not accelerate the construction of new submarines, as has always been the case on the threshold of or during big wars - then each submarine will control, roughly speaking, no more than the ocean’s perimeter (31) . If a merchant ship invades a closed area, the United States will either give a tip-off to its long-range aircraft or the nearest patrol submarine.

In ideal conditions, submarines and aircraft will not have much trouble when working on their combat sites, as they will enjoy the support of extensive channels of American intelligence, reconnaissance and tracking. In the context of regional war, however, China will try to blind these channels. As a result, target data may flow to distant aircraft and malfunctioning submarines, and the latter will have to rely on their own sonars. Although US forces will be able to create an effective closed zone, its control may be incomplete.

However, even with imperfect control over a closed zone, it will help achieve the objectives of the blockade, since the essence of the campaign will be based on deterrence, not on force. If the States set themselves the task of using force to neutralize China’s maritime trade by destroying merchant ships, they would be very disappointed - after all, more than 200 ships enter and leave Chinese ports on a daily basis and the US fleet would quickly waste their ammunition in an attempt to sink them all (32) . However, it seems to us that in practice, after the external drowning of several commercial vessels, wishing to violate the boundaries of a closed zone would quickly diminish.

The use of mines close to the Chinese harbors helped a lot with the blockade - the ten largest ports in mainland China provide the turnover of 80% of containers in the country (33). The United States could deploy smart mines that are programmed to destroy all commercial ships passing by. The mines could be placed either by submarines - but rather slowly - or by airplanes, by scattering - which is much faster and easier (however, it is more dangerous if they use aircrafts that are not equipped with stealth technology) (34). The Chinese, of course, will try to clear the minefields in different ways and the United States will need to prevent such efforts and constantly compensate for the loss of mines (35)

With all the advantages of mines, it remains unclear whether the United States has sufficient quantities and delivery systems to install and replenish minefields for a long time. This issue is discussed in more detail below.

However, the above are means that are good for the destruction of all suspicious ships. Without a surface fleet, it is impossible to differentiate, inspect or confiscate ships. However, it is precisely the presence of the A2 / AD complex in the PRC that makes it impossible for the United States to act within the framework of the conventions, using a surface fleet for the purposes of more demarcating and peaceful neutralization.

Possible political consequences

Although the "saw-drowned" policy often led to undeniable victories in the past, its application to neutral navigation was politically dangerous and often led to disastrous strategic consequences. If the inner ring of the blockade were not supplemented with an external one, then serious political consequences could not have been avoided, especially when the US Navy was interacting with a neutral merchant vessel by mistake. In addition to their political importance, random attacks would have an immediate impact on all regional trade in increased transportation costs (in particular insurance), which would have a negative impact on the trade of neutral Asian countries and American allies. (36) At least the Americans would not have become very painstaking in choosing targets for fire, war is not a flawless thing: as history shows, incidents happen and no other field of human activity is located to them anymore. It is worth recalling that the US entry into the First World War was partly due to Berlin’s non-discriminatory “saw-drowned” strategy.

The political consequences of the internal blockade ring will be determined by the international character of Chinese navigation. Chinese maritime trade is carried out in the framework of the international maritime market, which consists of a multitude of vessels with flags of various countries, owned and served by citizens of an even greater number of countries. Many of the neutrals will not want to join the American blockade, but they will become infuriated if their vessels sink, not giving them a chance to surrender. In addition, many of these countries are very important for the success of the blockade. China will certainly try to change its flags to the flags of such states. For example, China may try to conduct all of its international trade on Russian ships, and even if Moscow wants to support the United States, its business community will not allow it to do so.

There will also be a question about humanitarian supplies to China. If American sailors regularly sink ships-hospitals — as a result of the non-discriminatory “saw-drowned” policy — international public opinion will side with their opponents, which will undermine the strategic context necessary for the success of the blockade.

The use of mines is also beneficial because the final decision on sinking a suspicious vessel seems to lie on the conscience of its captain, and not the leadership from Washington. Although by itself, the use of mines near civilian ports is very scrupulous under both US and international law. (37)

Taking into account all the above, we can conclude that regardless of the nuances, the formation of a closed zone around China will be associated with a tremendous political danger. While the strategy of the internal ring of the blockade will be effective from a military point of view, it will entail a fan of unbearable diplomatic crises and the US will be faced with the need to establish a unilateral and Melos policy supported only by the US military.

External blockade ring - sorting and non-lethal neutralization

The organization of the outer ring blockade

When choosing a location for the outer ring of the blockade, two factors should be considered: a convenient geographical location and inconvenient for the A2 / AD complex. These two elements coincide on the outskirts of China’s near seas, where the United States should break down the selectively accessible perimeter of control points. (38)

To ensure that their perimeter covers all maritime traffic, the US will have to take into account many key pass routes in southeast and east Asia that will have to be blocked or closed tight. (39) The most important pass route is the Strait of Malacca - the sea corridor through which most of the trade, in particular Chinese, moves. Washington will face a deep and long-term outrage at the closure of the straits, so it is better to place your primary checkpoint there. In addition to the straits, the United States should consider some alternative sea routes that Chinese vessels can use, including the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Strait, around Australia and across the Pacific Ocean. These paths will either be blocked in a similar way as the Strait of Malacca, or they will be closed to international trade completely.

At the control points of the outer ring, the United States must establish and establish a strict inspection regime. To make it easier to determine the final destination of passing merchant ships, Americans will board and manually examine their bills of lading, documents that usually contain such data. It is not surprising that such work is very laborious, given the daily amount of transport. (40) To resolve this difficulty, the United States will introduce a new inspection regime; For example, a group of authors proposes the introduction of a mandatory system of remote confirmation of bills of lading. (41) In addition, the United States may introduce division of courts into different groups to simplify the procedure - courts that are not suspected of violating the blockade (for example, the US and Allied courts) are skipped with minimal verification.

In the initial period of the blockade, Americans will be able to confiscate a large number of ships bound for, owned or registered in China. The confiscated vessels will need to be towed or sent to quarantine, from where to put him and his cargo up for auction. However, as the blockade is settled, the Chinese will instruct their vessels to stay away from the Asia-Pacific region, and transport companies will stop sending their vessels there in fear of losing them.

In addition to inspecting ships, the United States will establish a new regional maritime transport system. To do this, they will copy the British System of Navigation Certification (navicert), which successfully proved itself in two world wars. (42) The relevant representatives of the United Kingdom inspected the goods until the moment of dispatch. After the inspection, in the absence of comments, the captain was issued a certificate in which the destination was indicated and which guaranteed safety when passing through the blockade. The lack of a certificate when the vessel was in the area of ​​the blockade provided a reason for its confiscation. This system operated in Northern Europe.

The introduction of such a system will significantly increase the effectiveness of US actions. (43) However, in modern conditions, the certificate will be issued in electronic form. In fact, navicert will be a commercial passport containing data on past and future voyages. The United States will force all vessels in the region to regularly report on the location, rate changes, and resale of cargo, which will be updated in navicert. In addition to navicert, Americans will place special beacons on each side in order to always have data on the presence of ships. (44)

Combined with US intelligence, reconnaissance and tracking (ISR) data, the East Asian navicert will supply the US with fairly accurate information and the positions and trajectories of all commercial ships in the region. (45)

To make the navicert system enforced, the United States will peacefully bar the way to all ships on the outer ring, which will persist in joining the system. Seafarers will be outraged at first, but trade will continue in East Asia and without China.

Political benefits

At first glance, the forced navicert system in East Asia may seem inapplicable for diplomatic reasons. In fact, it will be thought out as a mutually beneficial deal: the United States receives information on regional sea traffic, and in return reduces the risk of harm to neutral ships.

Taking into account the spatial map of navicert, it will be difficult for merchant ships to trade with China without receiving state support in deceiving the navicert system, which will reduce the negative political consequences for the inner ring of the blockade in two respects.

At firstthere will be fewer merchant ships willing to spend resources on overcoming the blockade, which will reduce the number of times when the United States is forced to sink the ship and cause a diplomatic scandal.

SecondlyThose who still try to break the blockade will be able to hope for a chance only if they have the help of the state, either Chinese or their own. If the Chinese, then their active cooperation with the Chinese regime isolates them from their own state politically and will give America an excellent opportunity for intervention. If, on the other hand, their own state is behind them in circumventing the navicert, then the States will simply have to agree that the stubborn opposition of that state is unshakable and unshakable.

In general, while the outer ring of the blockade will not be an operational prerequisite for the military success of the whole blockade, it will nevertheless be strategically decisive, largely due to the fact that it will mitigate the political consequences that will result from the non-discriminatory lethal neutralization policy inner ring blockade. The outer ring will reduce the number of random drowning - especially ships with a humanitarian mission, giving American forces more accurate guiding information through the navicert system. It will also reduce the number of violators of the blockade, as well as the political consequences of using a damaging force against those who hope to slip through.

In the end, the outer blockade ring will allow a large amount of Chinese goods to be confiscated during the early stages of the conflict, thereby benefiting the overall implementation of the blockade. The navicert system on the outer ring can also be used to regulate the flow of trade to neutral nations near China to prevent smuggling. (46) This will ultimately lower transportation prices to pre-war levels, which will benefit both neutrals and allies. (47)

Power component of the blockade

If we talk exclusively about the military component of the blockade, then the two-ring blockade will require not so much strength. The United States will send most of its submarine fleet to the inner ring, which will be covered by an air fleet to provide additional firepower and intelligence gathering. You will also need to spend money on the surface fleet, enemy submarine warfare, air defense facilities for the outer ring, although the exact structure of the theater of operations will largely depend on the circumstances of the blockade, including the size of the American coalition, the number and location of checkpoints on the outer ring, and the degree of influence blockade of regional navigation. (48) Over time, the United States will be able to reduce the number of forces involved, as the navicert system normalizes. In general, these needs will not impose any special requirements on the existing resources of the US Navy.

While preparing for a blockade, the United States may not worry that spending on military operations will hit their budget hard, as the fleet configuration is quite flexible. The fleet's recent acquisitions are very useful during the blockade. (49) This is a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) - “coastal warship” - as the basis for grouping the outer ring and a recent decision to dislocate at least two LCS at the Strait of Malacca in Singapore confirms this opportunity.

The United States should not worry about whether they have the power to blockade - they are - but about the opportunity cost of not using the blockade of naval forces in other military operations. As part of a broader military campaign, the US will have to allocate its limited resources between the blockade and other ongoing operations. In addressing this dilemma, the United States will take advantage of the fact that many assets that are too vulnerable during a military campaign of a different kind are ideal for blockade missions. (50) U.S. submarines will be the most sought-after US resource, but initial investments will be required to build blockade firepower. forces that will give impetus to the development of an effective containment system in a closed area and in the future will reduce the need for submarines.

There is only one challenge to the US readiness for the blockade - the lack of naval mines to carry out large-scale mining operations. (51) Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has allowed its ability to work with mines to atrophy. America’s arsenal of mines is scanty and outdated. By the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year, the United States is experiencing a shortage of mines (52) placed by submarines. Delivery vehicles are also in short supply. Conceptually, the best solution to this problem would be to drop mines from the air, but there are not enough invisible bombers with high range and the necessary training (53).

Washington needs to “develop and deploy a significant number of smart mobile mines capable of autonomous movement to programmed locations for long distances,” as some commentators recently called for (54).

Chinese countermeasures

Instead of openly destroying blockade forces, China can challenge them with a series of counter measures. Two of the most likely ones are an attack strategy in an economic war and a system of defensive convoys. However, none of the options will give China the opportunity to resolutely thwart the plans of the American blockade.

Economic war

China is praised for its A2 / AD system, which is focused on an attack on regional trade: its submarine fleet can threaten all ships in the seas close to China, its land-based air fleet and missile-armed surface ships can harm sea traffic near the coast, it also has capabilities to mining key navigation aisles and harbors (55). The relatively short range of the system limits its zone of operation with commercial objects in the near seas. However, if the PRC decides to engage in piracy, it will face great political consequences. Of course, if the People’s Liberation Army can distinguish between American and neutral trade, it can undermine American military efforts without irritating third parties. But this option is unlikely: if the PLA tries to engage in an economic war, the Chinese fleet will face the same problem that is tormenting the American blockade strategy - China will not be able to selectively strike only American and allied ships of the United States trade. To overcome this difficulty, the American blockade strategy relies on two rings that geographically separate the distribution and neutralization functions. China, in turn, will not be able to create an “outer ring”. As a result, the strategy of the PRC’s economic war is likely to turn into a banal destruction of all regional commerce that comes to hand, which will inevitably cause the same problems that Germany had when using the “saw-drowned” method in First MW.

Thus, even if China can win a limited number of victories, his guerre de course strategy will rally the entire region against it. In any case, the commercial raiding of the Chinese will only be good for the United States, since it will allow to solve one of the main tasks of the American blockade - to enlist regional political support.

Convoys system

China can also adopt a more defense-oriented strategy — a strategy of defensive convoys. Historically, convoy systems have been an effective means of mitigating damage from enemy piracy, both because they minimize accessibility to the enemy, and because they save defense costs.

However, although the convoys will reduce the losses of the Chinese merchant fleet, they will not be able to become a shield against the blockade for three reasons.

At first, the PLA has limited means to effectively protect commerce from attacks. China has nothing in common with ASW or minesweepers. At best, the convoy system will be able to cover only a small part of the merchant fleet. In addition, although China can get rid of most American ships from its near seas with the A2 / AD system, it cannot protect its own in the same way. As Corbett noted, it’s wrong to think, “that if one side loses control of the sea, then it immediately goes to the other side ... more often, neither side has it.” (56) According to this logic, China’s convoy system will face permanent losses from American funds like A2 / AD, preventing the Chinese from establishing dominance in the waters of the region.

Secondly, the convoy system will become logistically difficult to implement. Usually it involves the grouping of ships, which is created to overcome the dangerous area. But in this case, the Chinese merchant ships will be in danger immediately upon approaching the outer ring of the blockade and the Chinese convoy will be able to cover them only on the last leg of their journey. After passing the outer ring, the merchant ship on its way to China will have to secretly meet with an escort before the American blockade forces notice them. But the US fleet will specifically seek out large clusters of military and commercial ships, which can be viewed as a mere convoy, therefore the ability of a merchant ship to join the convoy will be inversely proportional to the size and defenses of this convoy.

Finally, at best, the convoy system will give every merchant ship a one-way ticket. If the ship passes through the blockade, it will be put on the American blacklist and confiscated at the first opportunity. Therefore, the transfer of goods to China in this way will be possible only if China wants to pay an exorbitant price for the purchase of a new vessel for each shipment.

The expected effects of the blockade

Although the blockade can be easily arranged, the question remains whether the efforts of the United States and its allies are worth it. How the blockade affects the armed forces, the economy and society of the PRC will be decisive for determining its value as a military strategy. Although the consequences of the blockade will be extremely complex, multi-layered and interdependent, the blockade will most likely be a convincing means of depleting China’s forces as part of a more general US campaign.

Even the most effective blockade will not disable the Chinese army, as the study shows, perhaps, the PLA’s biggest dependence: its thirst for oil. In response to the blockade, Beijing will establish rigid rations of petroleum products and determine priority needs. As a result, although civilian economic production will be curtailed, China will be able to use its own oil production, intact reserves and ground imports to refuel its military machine. (57) The most pressing problem for the People's Liberation Army of the PRC will be terrible traffic jams on the country's transport routes. But if the central government has enough time, it will open up these traffic jams and build an advanced oil distribution network. Accordingly, the blockade will not directly deprive the PLA of access to oil during the conflict.

The blockade will also not be able to completely ban China’s trade with the world, since even under ideal conditions, China will be able to purchase vital goods and resources, the fruit of the immutable laws of supply and demand. The more effectively the United States imposes a regional embargo, the more they will become a hostage to their success: the profit margin from imports to China will rise to heaven. If all but one of the countries imposed an embargo on China, the one remaining would monopolize trade with the inelastic and hungry Chinese market. The possible profits would have forced many of China’s neighbors, if not to continue trading with it, then at least to close their eyes to latent, illegal commerce. Even if there are no such neighbors, smuggling will be carried out at a non-state level.

Consequently, the true value of the blockade will be in its ability to inflict incredibly high financial damage on Beijing. To begin with, think only of a severe economic blow due to a shortage of oil. A rough estimate shows that the interruption of offshore oil transportation will cost China’s GDP at around 883 billion dollars (12,6% of China’s GDP at 2011). Provided that the blockade is successful, all the neighbors of China have joined the embargo, the US Navy does not allow Chinese to offshore oil platforms (and domestic production continues in the same volume) (58).

In fact, China, without doubt, will be able to recover at least some of the lost oil imports, but only at an unheard of high price. If China succeeds in escorting ships through the blockade, it will have to insure them at extortionate rates, possibly at 10 million dollars per ship per day. (59) If China turns to its neighbors instead of maritime traffic, it will face an order of magnitude higher cost of ground communications . (60) Since America will take care to damage the Chinese pipelines, it will need to create a huge fleet of trucks to transport oil in bulk. If China wants to import 5 million barrels of oil every day, it will need at least 110 000-155 000 tank trucks. To keep the fleet on the go, huge resources will have to be spent - each truck will consume at least 8-16% of the oil it brings, which means that China will have to import 395 000 - 885 000 barrels of oil per day in excess of five million barrels that it needs needed (61). In addition, Beijing will be charged a higher price, as the blockade will affect price growth due to fewer suppliers, higher risk and higher transportation costs for suppliers.

If we add to the consequences of the rupture of oil imports, the effects of the loss of other segments of foreign trade, it becomes clear that the blockade will send China’s economy at its peak, hitting three distinctive points: China’s double dependence on intermediate and primary imports and its low level of innovation.

As long as the Chinese economy is export-oriented, this dependence does not automatically mean a particular vulnerability. In the end, in the case of an embargo, a typical export-oriented economy could simply redirect its production process to the production of goods for domestic consumption (including its military efforts). However, China does not have such an opportunity, because most of its production for export depends on imports. Historically, China has exported almost all of its products after importing a variety of semi-finished products and components (62). In other words, the Chinese economy is “refining” by importing almost finished goods and adding marginal value before re-exporting finished products. As a result, China has structured most of its export-oriented economy around the import of intermediate goods, a phenomenon that is especially evident in high-tech sectors, where almost 90% of total exports are refining (63). Therefore, if the blockade interrupts imports, China will not be able to reorient its factories to meet domestic demand.

Chinese weakness is further aggravated by the enormous dependence on raw materials and foreign innovation as the basis of China’s manufacturing processes. Raw material is 27% of Chinese imports and its loss will stop the economy (64). China does not have a strong innovative ability — especially in the high-tech sectors — the worse for China will be the consequences of the blockade (65).

Therefore, China will not be able to simply recover from the blockade by reorienting its economy to domestic production - its entire economy is structurally dependent on trade and the blockade will cause irreparable damage to China’s production facilities in the field of high technologies. Over time, China will be able to find a way to trade again and will boost the economy, but the ongoing conflict will drain China’s economy more than it can recover.

Initially, the conflict with the United States mobilizes the people of China to support their leaders and strengthen the regime. But in the long run, as the war intensifies, the time may come when the cost of overcoming the blockade will be higher than the Chinese leadership can afford to incur and they will have to deal with the Morton's fork — or continue the obviously losing war or end it switch to an internal crisis that threatens the very existence of the Chinese state.


The context, conduct, and implications of the American blockade of China will be deeply linked in the maze of global politics. To overcome the various challenges of the blockade, the United States and allies will have to finely balance between the effectiveness of the blockade and the political consequences. In any case, it will be very difficult and will require a high degree of flexibility and innovation. US leaders should study well the past experience of the blockades of the First and Second World Wars.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges, the sea blockade is both operational and strategic, although it has a purely applied, narrow meaning. Even with a very successful blockade, China will be able to endlessly meet military needs at the expense of its reserves. Therefore, the blockade is obliged to make China's economic costs intolerable. As these costs grow, China will probably try to knock together a political coalition against the United States. The winner of this contest will be determined depending on whether the United States can create its own minimum coalition.

If the United States tries to impose a blockade without the silent connivance of such countries as Russia, India, Japan, the blockade will be much less effective, and the political consequences for the United States will be much more severe. Then follow a protracted game of exhaustion. On the one hand, the position of the Chinese economy will deteriorate, but on the other hand, China will work with its neighbors to put a political pressure on Washington. In a game of economic exhaustion versus political, the People’s Republic in the long run is likely to prevail unless the United States creates a minimum coalition. If the States succeed in creating a minimal coalition — it will depend on China’s aggressive behavior — then China’s economic depletion will accelerate significantly. In this context, even if the United States does not succeed in defeating China right away, taking advantage of its enormous dependence on sea trade, they will still succeed in reducing China’s strength until Beijing surrenders.

These findings provide direction for further research. In particular, scientists recently discussed the benefits of the Air-Sea battle, a military idea that focuses on the “networked, integrated, widespread attack for breaking, destroying and defeating threats (NIA-D3) A2 / AD” (66). Some analysts fear that the Air-Sea battle may be strategically dangerous, as its perceived focus on “enhanced conventional blinding and the suppression campaign” may lead to a rapid escalation, possibly to the nuclear level (67). According to these analysts, the blockade strategy can offer a convincing military alternative, being by its nature a tool of slow action, leaving diplomacy more room for maneuver. But a lot of work needs to be done - to what extent can the threat of blockade be a means of coercion even before it starts? If the US and the PRC are stuck in a local conflict, what place will the blockade take in escalating growth? If the US orients on the blockade, will it soften or, conversely, intensify the prospects for escalation during a crisis?

On the other hand, the blockade strategy can be used to complement other strategies for hitting targets in mainland China.

By striking at Chinese territory, the United States could maximize the strategic results of the blockade in three ways: first, strikes would significantly narrow the blockade; secondly, they will increase its destructive power; and thirdly, through time, the blows will give the States the opportunity to strategically choose the transition from a two-ring blockade to a conventional close blockade. However, the links between the blockade strategy and the strikes on Chinese territory, and how they all relate to the Air-Sea battle, remain largely unexplored. How will the Air-Sea battle and the blockade strategy reinforce each other and to what extent can they work in pairs? How do point punches fit into this generalized strategy? And if the blockade strategy is applied, how does this relate to America’s broader understanding of the notion of victory?

One of the important results of the analysis are the implications for regional stability. In the short term, the United States will breathe easier at the thought that, despite the ongoing military modernization of China, the military balance in the region is still in favor of the States, even with the worst scenario. As long as China also understands the potential of the blockade, it will refrain from direct aggression in the region, and both parties will be satisfied with the meager likelihood of conflict.

In the long run, the implications for regional stability look more ominous and depend mainly on how China will respond to the attacks of its opponents.

On the one hand, China can correctly appreciate that the strategic context is extremely important for the blockade and try to enlist the support of its neighbors. The threat of blockade does not contribute to the growth of China's hegemony, which has a positive effect on the stability in the region. In the end, the United States may be able to push China toward behavior that would be beneficial to America, and then universal security will only be strengthened.

On the other hand, China may decide that it should prevent the blockade itself. Some of China’s actions will not be particularly serious, such as the decision to balance the Chinese economy towards domestic consumption and eliminate dependence on foreign imports. Other actions may cause concern. If the PRC incorrectly interprets its trade security as something that can be ensured by “locking” foreign resources, then it can push international markets to a more mercantilist trajectory. China may also decide to continue to modernize its fleet, keeping in mind the possibility of a blockade. Then he can develop his nascent arsenal of anti-submarine weapons (ASW), as well as long-range submarines and move in the direction of the deep-sea fleet (68).

While such long-term measures may complicate the planned operations within the framework of the blockade, they do not take into account the whole picture: the key to the successful blockade of China does not lie in its operational implementation - it lies in its strategic context. If China wants to increase its security by aggressively increasing its army, then this will respond in the long run with a security dilemma that has disastrous consequences for both China’s security and the stability of the entire region. Ironically, if China wrongly and extracts the roots of its vulnerability, it will act along the path that will lead it - and the entire region - to the point that the blockade will turn into an unusually realistic possibility.

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