China is laying the foundation for its empire stretching from the Philippines to Alaska and from the Bering Sea to the North Pole, as its leaders scramble to assert their primacy on the seas and the world.
In the coming months, China is expected to make territorial claims in the South China Sea, where it has built artificial islands in contested waters.
At the same time, it is building military bases in disputed waters and is trying to secure access to the vast continental shelf it claims to control.
China’s moves could further escalate tensions between the United States and Japan and raise tensions between China and other Asian nations, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines.
“It’s a very big step to build up a military presence in the Pacific, but also a big step forward,” said Peter C. Singer, director of the Asian Studies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“There’s a big question mark over the long term, particularly for China, as to how it will respond to China’s assertiveness.
What we’re seeing now is a shift in the way China is going about building up its military presence,” Mr. Singer said.
Mr. Singer added that the new Chinese military posture will be a challenge for the United Kingdom, which has an active military presence.
China is building the largest military in the world, and its leaders are increasingly worried about what they perceive as its growing economic and political power in the region.
It will be extremely difficult to challenge China in the face of its growing military power, Mr. C.D. Huang, an Asia expert at the U.S. Naval War College, said.
“China has a very strong economic presence, and they are worried about how they are going to maintain it.”
China has long claimed the entire South China sea, including a reef it calls the Diaoyu.
The dispute has fueled a bitter dispute between Beijing and Tokyo, which both claim the entire area.
While there are growing fears of a wider confrontation between China, which is increasingly assertive, and the United State and its allies, there are also fears that China may seek to expand its military influence in the Indo-Pacific.
There are already signs that China is preparing to do just that, including building a military outpost on the contested Spratly Islands.
The U.K. is already conducting naval patrols off its coast, as is Australia, which plans to build a military base near its coast as soon as next year.
U.S.-led allies are also concerned that China’s growing military might could undermine their ability to counter China’s rising assertiveness, particularly in the West Pacific, where the United Nations is expected in the coming weeks to make a major push for greater security cooperation.