NEW YORK, USA – The Chinese navy now numbers over 300 surface ships, and it is working overtime to transform itself into a modern fleet that can potentially challenge the might of the United States navy in the Pacific Ocean, according to the annual report on China’s military capabilities recently released by the Pentagon.
“It is…an increasingly technologically advanced and flexible force,” the report to the US Congress said. “China’s military modernization is targeting capabilities with the potential to degrade core US military-technological advantages.”
To accomplish that objective, Beijing is using “a variety of methods to acquire foreign military and dual-use technologies, including cyber theft, targeted foreign direct investment, and exploitation of the access of private Chinese nationals to such technologies.”
The report added, “Several cases emerged in 2016 of China using its intelligence services, and employing other illicit technologies, controlled equipment, and other materials.”
On the waters of the Pacific and the South China Sea, China’s navy is “rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships equipped with advanced anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarines and sensors,” the Pentagon report explained.
“This modernization aligns with China’s ongoing shift from ‘near sea’ defense to a hybrid strategy of ‘near sea’ and ‘far seas’ protection.”
Control over disputed areas
The US Defense Department said Beijing continues to “exercise low-intensity coercion” to advance Chinese claims in the South China Sea, where it is being challenged by a number of Southeast Asian countries, and in the waters of East Asia, where China has an ongoing dispute with Japan.
“China uses an opportunistically timed progression of incremental but intensifying steps to attempt to increase effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict,” the Pentagon said.
The Asian giant also uses its clout as the world’s second biggest economy through economic incentives and punitive trade policies to “deter opposition to China’s actions in the region,” according to the Pentagon.
“It extended economic cooperation in exchange for shelving disputes with the Philippines,” it said, but then “conversely, China restricted Philippine fruit imports during the height of Scarborough reef tensions in 2012.”
“Although its land reclamation and artificial islands do not strengthen China’s territorial claims as a legal matter or create any new territorial sea entitlements, China will be able to use its reclaimed features as persistent civil-military bases to enhance its presence in the South China Sea and improve China’s ability to control the features and nearby maritime space.”
Longer-term, the Chinese will soon be aiming to do what the US has done: set up a network of bases in strategic areas of the world where its ships can project power in a given region, with the oil-rich waters of the Persian Gulf a notable objective.
When the US was setting up its own network in the Pacific, that meant forward bases in ports in the Philippines during the Cold War, of which the key was Subic Naval base. These days, the US can call on ports in Singapore, Australia, Japan, and even former enemy Vietnam. The US Navy and Air Force also have a solid base in Guam, an American territory that is within a few hours flying or a few days sailing time from Asia.
In the Pentagon’s estimation, the Chinese are also aiming to support missions beyond the waters near their mainland or its “periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counterpiracy, peace-keeping, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief.”
“In February 2016, China began construction of a military base in Djibouti that could be complete within the next year. China likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has longstanding, friendly relationships,” the Pentagon said.
One possibility for the Chinese, according to the report, is a base in Pakistan although the sheer volatility of the country due to Islamist attacks may make that prospect a little daunting or even problematic.
Taking it out a few decades and as Chinese power grows, the Pentagon said “a more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure would also be essential to enable China to project and sustain military power at greater distances from China.” – Rappler.com
Rene Pastor is a journalist in the New York metropolitan area who writes about agriculture, politics and regional security. He covered the 9/11 attacks in New York and the innumerable coups in the Corazon Aquino era. He was, for many years, a senior commodities journalist for Reuters. He is known for his extensive knowledge of agriculture and the El Niño phenomenon and his views have been quoted in news reports.