China’s naval footprint in the Indian Ocean has expanded considerably over the last decade. This growing presence has led to significant debates about China’s goals and capabilities in the region. This article argues that China’s trajectory over the last ten years reflects an alignment of ends, ways and means in the Indian Ocean. The main driver behind China’s ambitions in the region is the need for Beijing to secure pivotal maritime lines of communications that carry a large share of Chinese oil imports and a sizable part of Chinese exports. Fulfilling this mission has required a significant adjustment of China’s naval strategy, and the addition of ‘open seas protection’ to the core missions of the PLA Navy. This strategy has, in turn, been supported by the development of a navy with increased sea control capabilities and overseas basing plans that have started to materialize in Djibouti.