Jinglue Haiyang: The Naval Implications of Xi Jinping’s New Strategic Concept

Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 1

Admiral Wu Shengli, a member of the Central Military Commission and commander of the PLA Navy, has spoken about jinglue haiyang. (Credit: Sina)

In studies of Chinese expansion in the near seas of East Asia, one topic that has been almost entirely ignored is the concept of jinglue haiyang, recently endorsed by the Party-state as a facet of China’s maritime power strategy. The word jinglue is not in common usage; indeed, most dictionaries do not define it. It is a verb combining jing, the character for manage or administer, with lue, the character for strategy or stratagem. According to the 1979 edition of the Cihai Dictionary, it means “handling an issue on the basis of prior planning.” A useable translation might be “strategically manage,” with the full phrase rendered as “strategic management of the sea.”

Chinese official and quasi-official sources, the naval press in particular, now regularly cite this new concept, often identifying it as a cornerstone of Chinese President and Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping’s strategic thought. Given the exoticism of the term and its obvious importance for understanding Chinese maritime strategy, it is worth examining in greater detail. A close reading of Chinese texts suggests that the concept favors an expansive view on the use of sea power in peacetime, perhaps shedding light on the current leadership’s apparent preference for a more active and systematic pursuit of maritime dominance, especially in the waters of the South China Sea.

The Path to Endorsement

The notion of strategic management of the sea is in fact not novel. In a paper published in the Pacific Journal (Taipingyang Xuebao) in 1996, Luo Ruyu, a retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Senior Captain and Director of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), advocated for the concept to sit at the core of China’s maritime strategy. Luo’s understanding of the term, now nearly 20 years old, remains valid:

Jinglue haiyang falls within the scope of national strategy. It primarily means using political, military, technological and diplomatic means to engage in high level and comprehensive management of national interests and security in the maritime domain, and to adopt forceful measures to accelerate marine development and exploitation, to strengthen comprehensive management of the sea, and to defend the motherland’s maritime rights and interests in every respect. [1]

Since the mid-1990s, Chinese commentators have periodically called for the country to implement a policy of strategic management of the sea. Prescriptions may vary, but understanding of the term has remained constant. The concept connotes a comprehensive national strategy formulated and overseen by the highest levels of government. It knits together the efforts of multiple departments, agencies and services. It implies active pursuit of well-defined goals. While economic development is consistently seen as the core objective, maritime security and “rights protection” have always been key concerns. Thus, instruments of sea power—the PLA Navy in particular—are expected to play important roles in strategic management of the sea.

Despite occasionally appearing in authoritative publications, the concept was not official policy. As late as April 2013, the text of the 12th Five Year Plan for Marine Development makes no mention of the term. Nor does strategic management appear in the April 2013 White Paper on “The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces” (Xinhua, April 16, 2013).

This changed abruptly just three months later. On July 30, members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo met for a collective study session on the topic of transforming China into a maritime power. At this meeting, President Xi delivered a set of remarks that were subsequently summarized in the Chinese press. The first paragraph of the official summary contains the following sentence, which also serves as the title of Xi’s speech: “We need to do more to take interest in the sea, understand the sea, and strategically manage the sea, and continually do more to promote China’s efforts to become a maritime power” (People’s Daily, August 1, 2013). [2]

Despite the brevity of the official summary of Xi’s remarks, we can draw some conclusions, the most important being that “strategic management of the sea” is now an integral component of China’s maritime power strategy. It represents an all-encompassing term for the action that follows taking interest in and understanding the sea. The primary elements of China’s maritime power strategy outlined at the 18th Party Congress—safeguarding maritime rights/interests, protecting the environment, improving the capacity to exploit marine resources and developing the marine economy—are entirely congruent with the earliest conceptions of jinglue haiyang. In four characters, this term captures the essence of Chinese objectives.

Strategic Management as Policy

Obviously, strategic management of the sea is a concept with implications for all departments, agencies and services with responsibilities in the maritime domain. To better understand what it means for the PLA Navy, it is helpful to examine how the service interprets and operationalizes the term. A close reading of the navy’s official newspaper, People’s Navy, provides useful data. The table below depicts the frequency of the use of the term “jinglue” since 2010.

Use of the Term “Strategic Management” in the People’s Navy Since 2010


No. of Articles











* Excludes Nov. and Dec.

Analysis of the content of these articles allows for the following observations:

  1. The term “strategic management” first appeared in October 2012.
  2. Since that time, the term has been used in 39 articles, appearing with increasing frequency over time.
  3. The term mostly, but not exclusively, refers to the strategic function of the PLA Navy in the near seas of East Asia.
  4. The South China Sea is the only body of water specifically mentioned in conjunction with strategic management.
  5. The term frequently appears in parallel with the phrase “safeguard maritime rights and interests.”

That the concept began to appear regularly in the second half of 2012 suggests that it achieved internal currency well before President Xi enshrined it as policy. In his remarks delivered during a discussion group at the 18th Party Congress, published in the November 13, 2012, issue of People’s Navy, Vice Admiral Jiang Weilie highlights four areas of future development for the navy. In his third point, Jiang states, “We need to do more with respect to implementing the strategy of strategic management of the South China Sea. The fleet is an important strategic force in the South China Sea. It ensures the security of important sea lines of communication and it effectively safeguards national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests. We need to do more to strengthen our theoretical research on strategic management of the South China Sea; proactively combine [actions that] safeguard rights and [actions that] safeguard stability; thoroughly augment the strength of our strategic control over the South China Sea; and thoroughly guard, build and strategically manage the South China Sea.” [3]

Use of the term became more frequent in the first quarter of 2014 in conjunction with a campaign to indoctrinate the service with Xi Jinping thought. On March 19, sixteen senior naval officers published articles paying homage to President Xi’s strategic wisdom. These 800-character pieces provide a fascinating window into the essence of Xi’s thinking on Chinese sea power. The concept of strategic management of the sea appears repeatedly.

The contribution of Vice Admiral Zhang Zhaoyin is particularly noteworthy, given his position as deputy commander of the South Sea Fleet. In his article, Zhang writes, “During both of his visits to the South Sea Fleet, Xi Jinping emphasized the South China Sea rights protection issue. He pointed out that the navy needs to view the matter from the perspective of national security and development strategy, that it needs to come through on the important matter of strategic management of the South China Sea.” [4]

To do this, Zhang writes, the PLA Navy must improve cooperation with the country’s maritime law enforcement forces as they pursue “administrative control” (guankong)—a concept that has gained increasing prominence in recent years—over the South China Sea (The National Interest, October 1, 2014). Specifically, this means increasing the frequency and quality of joint exercises, setting up a joint command structure and sharing intelligence. Zhang then writes, “We must…comprehensively implement policy, thus ensuring that we win the initiative in achieving administrative control and rights protection law enforcement in the South China Sea.” In this vision, the PLA Navy provides operational support for maritime law enforcement forces, which serve as the primary instruments of China’s rights protection strategy.

Several articles highlight the importance of islands and other land features in efforts to achieve strategic management of the South China Sea. For example, during an inspection tour of Woody Island in October 2012, then Deputy Political Commissar of the navy, Vice Admiral Wang Zhaohai, pointed out, “The Xisha, Nansha, and Zhongsha islands are bases of strategic resources for China’s long-term development. They are important strategic strongpoints for China to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests. Their status is extremely important for strategic management of the South China Sea…” [5]

The concept of strategic management now frequently garnishes the public speeches of senior officers. In August 2014, the navy held a conference to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the First Sino-Japanese War. Admiral Wu Shengli gave a talk in which he stated the following: “In the face of a profoundly changing international strategic situation and increasingly complex and severe maritime threats, we must thoroughly implement the important ideas of Xi Jinping regarding strategic management of the sea, safeguarding maritime rights and building the navy.” [6] That this language is included in a speech given by the head of the Chinese navy and a member of the Central Military Commission indicates that strategic management of the sea is now central to conceptions of peacetime naval strategy.


Chinese leaders have embraced the notion of strategic management of the sea. However, publicly available Chinese government documents do not provide a satisfactory definition of the concept, or how it will be pursued. What can be discerned is that it comprises a comprehensive peacetime strategy for exploiting the sea for economic purposes, protecting the marine environment, defending maritime borders and protecting the homeland from threats from the seaward direction. In short, it represents the operational components of China’s “maritime power strategy.”

Close reading of the PLA Navy’s service newspaper suggest that the concept, in the context of national defense strategic management, implies coordinated peacetime pursuit of maritime dominance, meaning, a high level of maritime domain awareness, the capacity to deter foreign infringements, and the ability to forcibly respond to all challenges and provocations should they occur. It means proactively imposing order or “administrative control” on claimed jurisdictional and sovereign waters. This order is upheld by Chinese maritime law enforcement forces, with the support of the PLA Navy, which provides operational assistance and deters the intervention of foreign militaries.

Many new maritime initiatives have been launched since President Xi’s study session remarks; many of these actions plainly suggest a state acting on the basis of a new strategic concept. Without much more empirical evidence, however, it would be premature to posit a causal relationship. What can be safely asserted is that recent island reclamation programs—assuming they lead to increased PLA Navy presence on disputed islands—and the PLA Navy’s operational support for the China Coast Guard’s defense of HYSY 981 clearly fall within the scope of strategic management of the sea, as outlined above. At the very least, appearance of this term in government documents and other authoritative texts will be worth tracking during the remaining years of the Xi administration.


  1. Luo Ruyu, “Jinglue Haiyang Ying Zuowei Guojia De Yi Xiang Jiben Guoce,” Taiping Yang Xuebao, 1996/02, p 18.
  2. Since 1949, China has adopted a series of “naval strategies.” These include “near coast defense,” “near seas active defense” and “far seas operations.” These constitute approaches to defeating adversaries in wartime, unlike jinglue haiyang, which appears to be a peacetime maritime strategic concept (involving all of the sea services). See Nan Li, “The Evolution of China’s Naval Strategy and Capabilities: From ‘Near Coast’ and ‘Near Seas’ to ‘Far Seas,’” Asian Security, vol. 5, no. 3, 2009.
  3. Jiang Weilie, “Xianqi Xuexi Guanche De Rechao, Tigao Lvxing Shiming Nengli, Quanmian Tuijin Budui Jianshe Kexue Fazhan Anquan Fazhan,” Renmin Haijun, November 13, 2012, p. 2.
  4. Zhang Zhaoyin, “Qieshi Youxiao Weihu Nanhai Haiyang Quanyi,” Renmin Haijun, March 19, 2014, p 3.
  5. Zhao Zhiwei, “Zhongguo Gongchengyuan Yuanshi Fu Xisha Jinxing Diaoyan,” Renmin Haijun, October 23, 2012, p 1.
  6. Cai Nianchi, Yuan Zhenjun, and Deng Ranzi, “Jiawu Zhanzheng 120 Zhounian Yantaohui He Jidian Yishi Longzhong Juxing,” Renmin Haijun, August 28, 2014, p 1.