China will continue to seek great naval capacities: An exclusive interview with Chad Sbragia.

Mr.Chad Sbragia, a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for China. Previously, Sbragia served as the Director of the China Research Group for the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as a principal advisor on China to the Deputy Commandant for Information and Director of Intelligence. And also he served as the Deputy Director of the China Strategic Focus Group, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.Sbragia is currently a Research Staff Member at the Institute for Defence Analyses. 

The 2022 China Military Power Report, released by the United States, identifies the Chinese Navy as the numerically largest in the world. Having served in the U.S. Marine Corps for almost three decades, what is your take on this? How should the United States respond?

Really, this addition was intended to highlight one feature of the competition in naval affairs. The truth is the U.S. still retains a significant advantage in total naval tonnage, but the number of vessels affords any nation greater flexibility in posture and presence, which the U.S. must address.

The ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?’ hypothesis has been postulated in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Moreover, the Chinese have moved away from collective leadership to elevate Xi Jinping as the preeminent leader. Your thoughts on these developments?

Primarily, Xi’s actions to update the Party and State System, which revises long-standing practices in collective leadership practices, mark China’s political modernity and portends greater governing efficiency, if he can maintain internal political stability.

There is an increasing presence of Chinese submarines and surveillance vessels in the Indian Ocean. The Yuan Wang 5 docked in Sri Lanka in August 2022, with much consternation in India. Some believe that gunboat diplomacy is an anachronistic concept that had died with Queen Victoria. However, it keeps resurrecting itself like the proverbial Phoenix. If one were to employ naval thinker James Cable’s classification of gunboat diplomacy, the visit of the Yuan Wang 5 could be classed as Expressive Force: the use of navies to send a political message. Indeed, this aspect of gunboat diplomacy is undervalued and almost dismissed by James Cable. One may even conclude that ‘naval diplomacy’ is yet a poorly understood concept. What are your thoughts on the visit of the Yuan Wang 5?

The Party, led by Xi Jinping, has repeatedly called for China to become a “maritime great power,” which includes the development of naval warships commensurate with the need to support China’s developmental aspirations and safeguard its growing global security interests. There is clear and repeated evidence China will continue to seek great naval capacities, and on a global scale.


A few years ago, the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka was leased to China for 99 years. This is as good as an outright sale. Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has remarked that it might soon become a forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy. But Colombo rejected it and described it as imaginary. How do you see this as a military analyst?

There is little doubt that China sees such activities as a means of bringing Sri Lanka into greater political, diplomatic, economic, and security alignment. While Colombo is right to be cautious, they should invest energy into establishing iron-clad limitations on China’s use of Sri Lanka as a fulcrum for Beijing’s future regional activities.

How do you view China’s significant presence in Sri Lanka? Is there a U.S. standpoint on Sri Lanka in terms of the Indo-Pacific?

Washington has proposed many mechanisms to partner with the region, including Sri Lanka, to ensure the peace and prosperity of a free and open Indo-Pacific is a lasting feature. There is little doubt that the United States will continue to seek greater alignment with Sri Lanka to safeguard common interests that benefit everyone and defend against those nations seeking to reform the global and regional security orders, such as China.