Sat, May 04, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Report warns of Chinese subs in Arctic region

Reuters and AFP, WASHINGTON

Deepening Chinese activities in the Arctic could pave the way for a strengthened military presence, including the deployment of submarines to act as deterrents against nuclear attack, the Pentagon said in a report on Thursday.

The assessment is included in the military’s annual report to the US Congress on China’s armed forces and follows Beijing’s publication of its first official Arctic policy white paper in June last year.

In that paper, China outlined plans to develop shipping lanes opened up by global warming to form a “Polar Silk Road” — building on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) Belt and Road Initiative.

China, despite being a non-Arctic state, is increasingly active in the polar region and became an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013.

This has prompted concerns from Arctic states over Beijing’s long-term strategic objectives.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to attend a meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland, starting on Monday, which comes amid concerns over China’s increased commercial interests in the Arctic.

The Pentagon report said that Denmark has expressed concern about China’s interest in Greenland, including proposals to establish a research station and a satellite ground station, renovate airports and expand mining.

“Civilian research could support a strengthened Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, which could include deploying submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attacks,” the report said.

China’s military has made modernizing its submarine fleet a high priority and currently operates four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, six nuclear-powered attack submarines and 50 conventionally powered attack submarines, the report said.

“The speed of growth of the submarine force has slowed and [it] will likely grow to between 65 and 70 submarines by 2020,” it added.

China had built six Jin-class submarines, with four operational and two under construction at Huludao Shipyard, the report said.

In a January report, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said that the Chinese navy would need at least five Jin-class submarines to maintain a continuous nuclear deterrence at sea.

The US and its allies are expanding their anti-submarine naval deployments across East Asia, including stepped-up patrols of advanced, sub-hunting P-8 Poseidon planes out of Singapore and Japan.

The expansion of China’s submarine forces is just one element of a broad modernization of its military, which US experts have said is designed largely to deter any action by the US’ armed forces.

Although Beijing’s official defense budget for last year was US$175 billion, the Pentagon estimated that it actually topped US$200 billion when including research, development and foreign weapons procurement.

It estimated that China’s official defense budget would likely grow to about US$260 billion by 2022.

The Pentagon also said that it expects China to add military bases around the world to protect its Belt and Road Initiative investments.

Beijing currently has just one overseas military base, in Djibouti, but is believed to be planning others, including possibly Pakistan.

“China will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” the report said.

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