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April 11, 2011 3:28 pm

China’s Navy: Rising Threat

avatar by Daniel Mandel

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News broke this week that China may be nearly ready to launch its first aircraft carrier. Yes, the photos released by the state news agency are of a reconditioned ship originally bought from Ukraine — but Beijing is quite likely to follow up with its own construction in the years ahead. It has already announced that it’s begun training programs for carrier pilots.

Those revelations come after many years of official denials that China has any interest in aircraft carriers — and they make a mockery of all the expert dismissals of the rise of the Chinese Navy.

The time has come to challenge all warm and fuzzy assurances that the Chinese Navy does not represent a steadily increasing threat to US interests. Let’s start by noting a few realities:

* Given the opacity of the regime, there is no public knowledge of the actual size of the Chinese defense budget. And almost everyone who examines the available evidence is persuaded that it is growing rapidly.

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* China can more cheaply design, build and maintain its military than can the United States. The lower pay for military personnel alone is a major advantage for the Chinese.

* There is little likelihood that the Chinese regime, which is enjoying exceptional economic growth (accelerated by predatory trade policies and a willingness to ignore intellectual-property rights) and with deep-seated resentment of past exploitation by foreign powers, is likely to be satisfied with regional parity with US naval power.

* China has spent years building its influence with nations like Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in order to establish economic hegemony in the Western Pacific. Beyond the Pacific, it is aggressively building economic ties in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and even the Caribbean. Those ties contribute to Chinese global power — and it will seek to protect them.

* China has become a major importer of oil, gas and raw materials and an exporter of manufactured products. These imports and exports travel over sea routes it is going to protect.

In the years since the communists took power in China, the regime’s geostrategic perspective has advanced inexorably from an inward concentration to a coastal emphasis to a “near beyond” focus. The admission that China is going to develop a carrier capability makes the next step clear: China is shaping a navy for global power projection.

Rather than facing up to these clear indicators, the US government and much of the public consider the US national defense capability to be just another expense to be evaluated (read: cut), along with government health spending and farm subsidies.

All this has unpleasant implications for the future. Consider just one scenario, starting with Taiwan.

Beijing’s recent suspension of China-US military contacts over a new US-Taiwan arms deal is but one indication that China remains determined to use military force to “return” that island to mainland control. The only real question is when — and with US naval power falling as China’s rises, the odds grow that it will be sooner rather than later.

The conquest of Taiwan would surely embolden America’s enemies and depress its friends. Cuba and Venezuela might threaten US Gulf Coast oil resources, for example. Add to the mix the chance of the Chinese company that manages the Panama Canal closing that strategic chokepoint to US ships — something Chinese carrier-based battle groups could enforce. At the same time, China could declare a naval quarantine of the Straits of Malacca, again enforced with naval tactical airpower. The effect on the US economy and military posture would be disastrous.

And the implications would be global. Overstretched US naval power in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean could be checkmated by Chinese naval forces operating much the way the US Navy operates today — leaving Israel to be overrun by its nearby enemies.

Other scenarios staged around an expanded Chinese Navy led by as many as seven or eight carrier battle groups are equally disturbing, particularly with the US Navy having shrunk from 15 carrier battle groups to 11, and possibly 10 in the future.

In short, there’s plenty of reason to worry about Chinese aircraft carriers.

Rear Adm. (ret.) Joseph Callo (jfc1952@aol.com) is a naval historian and author of “John Paul Jones: America’s First Sea Warrior.” Daniel Mandel (daniel.mandel@gmail.com) is a fellow in history at Melbourne University.

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  • Renji

    Chinese Ships can have base in South End of Sri-Lanka & Burma. An Indian Ship cannot sail to Vietnam? How this once hungry people became so prudent ?

  • China would be a fool to conquer Taiwan by force when it can be done economically. Nevertheless, the day will come when they will want to put a naval base or air base somewhere on the island. When such a moment arrives, the Taiwanese will probably cave in, as the Americans will be enmeshed in one of the many crises that are likely to result from their rapidly deteriorating economic position. A merger of Taiwanese and Chinese power will increase their position in regard to the South China Sea and the Ryuku/Diaoyutai chain north of Taiwan.

  • terryl

    All you guys complaining are a bore..can’t you just think working with the Chinese navy? Instead you feel threatened? And on what basis? The US has a Navy larger than any country in the world – It makes wars with every country in the world, Its military budget is a hundred times more than China and yet you are complaining about China?? Better you think of why your country owes so much money and are in debt! I think your inferiority is the problem. China has always been peaceful and its rise is not a suprise just accept it and don’t go paranoid like u used to during the cold war. I think the problem is US don’t have new enemies, now you need to target the Chinese.

  • Another reason not to believe “warm and fuzzy assurances” about Chinese naval development: the upcoming sale of six nuclear-missile capable, AIP-equipped “Qing” class submarines to Pakistan. Another program the media seems in the dark about. California is using Chinese engineers to build the new East Bay bridge from San Francisco to Oakland. If China can build state-of-the-art earthquake-proof bridges more cheaply than Americans, can it not do the same with advanced military hardware?

  • Hello great topic we have going there.

  • Plan 1047 was regaly magazynowe a series of plans for a merit of Dutch battlecruisers prior to the Defective Area War. The ships were intended to bar a perceived commination posed close to Royal Japanese invasion to the Dutch colonies in the East Indies. The 1047s were shaped by way of the prerequisite to be able to fight their way in the course a division composed of heavy and well-lighted cruisers, and smaller destroyers. It was hoped that this adeptness would deduct the battlecruisers to routine as a rapid in being. A prodromal plan was tired up without foreign help, but as the Peerage Netherlands Flotilla had not in days of old designed a up to the minute capital ferry, and the alone info nearby on new designs came from open literature and editions of Jane’s Fighting Ships, it was missing various of the post-First Life War advances in warship technology.

  • f.tuijn

    President Nixon agreed in 1972 that there was just one China, Not two China’s or China and Taiwan. Selling weapons to Taiwan is interfering in the internal affairs of China, which violates article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations.

    • Any country that the US supports is like the ‘kiss of death’. Just look at Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. All America cares about is world hegemony at the expense of the rest of the world. God help Taiwan if she continues to play the US against its Fatherland (China)

      Louis
      Canada

      • terryl

        Good.. well said, Taiwan would be dumb to play into US hands. Not to mention the South Korea, Phillipines and any other Kiss-ass America nations like Japan. All these negative comments about China are unfounded – its just basically America and the Western world searching for new enemies and fearing their own demise .. they say the Asia Century is here..but look around and you see all these Western nations with lots of guns & military power and all the Asian nations fighting within themselves – but no thanks to the manipulation of the USA- so the other nations had better wake up else you are a laughing stock to the Westerners!

  • Danny

    You are a really good fictional writer.

    The probability of what you said happening is like 0.001% but you make it out like it is a fact.

  • LOL

    Excessive indebtedness to your principal rival, slow economic growth, and growing unmanageable overseas commitments is a bigger than to the US Navy than China’s navy.

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