With Ships and Missiles, China Is Ready to Challenge U.S. Navy in Pacific

The roots of China’s focus on sea power and “area denial” can be traced to what many Chinese viewed as humiliation in 1995 and 1996. When Taiwan moved to hold its first democratic elections, China fired missiles near the island, prompting President Bill Clinton to dispatch two aircraft carriers to the region.

“We avoided the sea, took it as a moat and a joyful little pond to the Middle Kingdom,” a naval analyst, Chen Guoqiang, wrote recently in the official Navy newspaper. “So not only did we lose all the advantages of the sea but also our territories became the prey of the imperialist powers.”

China’s naval buildup since then has been remarkable. In 1995, China had only three submarines. It now has nearly 60 and plans to expand to nearly 80, according to a report last month by the United States Congressional Research Service.

As it has in its civilian economy, China has bought or absorbed technologies from the rest of the world, in some cases illicitly. Much of its military hardware is of Soviet origin or modeled on antiquated Soviet designs, but with each new wave of production, analysts say, China is deploying more advanced capabilities.

China’s first aircraft carrier was originally launched by the Soviet Union in 1988 and left to rust when the nation collapsed three years later. Newly independent Ukraine sold it for $20 million to a Chinese investor who claimed it would become a floating casino, though he was really acting on behalf of Beijing, which refurbished the vessel and named it the Liaoning.

The second aircraft carrier — as yet unnamed — is largely based on the Liaoning’s designs, but is reported to have enhanced technology. In February, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation disclosed that it has plans to build nuclear-powered carriers, which have far greater endurance than ones that require refueling stops.

China’s military has encountered some growing pains. It is hampered by corruption, which Mr. Xi has vowed to wipe out, and a lack of combat experience. As a fighting force, it remains untested by combat.


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