A show of force and intent
On April 23, China unveiled its new nuclear submarines, marking the highlight of the Chinese Navy’s 60th anniversary. The state news agency, Xinhua, quoted a senior Chinese naval officer’s statement that the display aimed to promote understanding about China’s military development.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) called on the Navy to enhance its capabilities to carry out missions in the new century.
These missions arguably range from protecting China’s interests in maritime trade and deterring Taiwanese independence to potentially challenging the US’ maritime position in Asia.
The latter concern is referred to specifically in the Pentagon’s report to Congress on the intentions of the Chinese military: developing a capability that can disrupt the traditional advantages of the US military.
Early last month, five Chinese ships harassed the US Navy vessel Impeccable in international waters, though the Chinese claimed that the ship was in its territory. Michael Auslin, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, labeled this activity as part of “an ongoing Chinese campaign to pressure the US Navy.”
The modernization of the PLA navy is critical for China in the event of military conflict in the Taiwan Strait and in expanding its influence beyond the Asia-Pacific region. Naval power is a prerequisite in operating missions in distant waters.
As such, the Navy is keen on acquiring an aircraft carrier, to be purchased overseas or developed domestically, for symbolic and practical purposes.
Through military parades and displaying new submarines, China is demonstrating its new maritime status — one that has greater operational confidence and capability.
This event marks the beginning of a new phase of military buildup.
A New York Times article, citing an official Chinese news outlet, reported that Beijing was aiming to increase its naval presence in the South China Sea by sending six more patrol vessels to the region over the next three to five years.
Undeniably, each nation has the inherent right to develop a strong naval presence in securing national interests. However, the current status of dominant power in the South and East China Seas has not satisfied China’s appetite for influence beyond these areas, as exemplified in its involvement in the international effort to combat piracy, particularly off Somalia.
In the name of curbing piracy in distant waters, the Chinese Navy is conspicuously testing its naval effectiveness and making its presence felt.