Navy has to get stronger

Updated: 2012-07-27 08:06

By Wang Xiaoxuan (China Daily)

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China's coastal defense demands more security from its navy, although it is decades behind its advanced counterparts

Since its establishment in 1949, China's navy has taken great strides both in terms of its size and operation capabilities. With the efforts of generations, the navy has developed from a single unit into a composite force composed of submarines, surface fleet, naval aviation vessels, marine corps and coastal defense units, laying the structural foundation for its modernization.

With its strategic transformation from coastal defense to inshore defense, the overall inshore fighting capability of China's navy has improved continuously and its defense cordon has extended farther into the seas over the decades. The navy, with its growing fighting capabilities, is a reliable protector of China's maritime rights and interests, and a forceful promoter of harmonious waters.

The navy has expedited its development, from mechanization to "informationalization", and advancing toward a more powerful force. But despite its achievements of the past decades, the navy's development is not complete. It has lagged far behind the naval forces of other developed countries.

In this information age, a country's navy should have a higher tech content, which is also viewed as an important measure of its modernization. Though the navy has dedicatedly pursued advanced technologies, including information, power and intelligence technologies, and manufacturing skills, it is still far from being a world-class outfit in terms of core technologies.

Some experts say the Chinese navy's technology is 20 years behind its advanced counterparts and the gap is even wider in some core areas. Compared with some of its developed counterparts, China's navy possesses fewer large-sized warships and those that can sail long distances. As a result, it cannot meet the demands of China's interests in overseas regions and undertake some international duties and maintain world peace.

But some foreigners have questioned China's move to build large-sized warships, arguing that its inshore defense does not need them. The fact is that the adoption of an inshore defense strategy does not mean China's navy should be confined to limited marine areas. Given the threat of long-range attack from potential adversaries, China should extend its range of defense further. Only by doing so can it realize its objective of inshore defense and protect its territory. That's why an inshore defense strategy also needs assorted vessels, large and small, as backup.

Besides, the Chinese navy in its new role also undertakes other heavy tasks - from anti-terrorism operations to disaster relief, peacekeeping and other non-combat missions. For better and effective disaster relief operations on the high seas, a navy needs large vessels, as was seen during relief and rescue operations after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and the catastrophic earthquake in Japan in March 2011.

Compared with its advanced counterparts, the Chinese navy is also weak in its maneuvering capability on high seas. With the expansion of China's national interests, the navy needs to stretch its operations further.

Of late, the Chinese navy has been undertaking more international obligations. But because of the lack of a strong pelagic guaranteeing system, it has often encountered insurmountable difficulties in its deep-sea operations, as indicated by its convoy mission in the Gulf of Aden.

Turning a blind eye to these aspects, some foreign experts have questioned China's moves to strengthen its naval capabilities, alleging that such moves are aimed at pursuing maritime expansion and thus pose a threat to other countries.

Moreover, like other navies in the world, the Chinese navy also needs maritime exercises to improve its fighting capabilities. But China's maritime drills have been singled out for criticism. The regular and limited exercises held by China's navy are completely defensive in nature and intent, aimed at boosting its capability to fight possible foreign aggression. Both in size and frequency, China's naval exercises have been miniscule compared to those held by the US navy.

Also, the Chinese navy has held the drills mainly in non-combat waters for non-combat purposes, such as maritime rescue operations, escort convoys, and anti-piracy and anti-terrorism campaigns.

A long-held distrust of China among some people and their ambivalence toward the country's development are the main reasons why they exaggerate China's military threat. They fear, and wrongly, that a powerful China will become a challenge to their dominance.

They also tend to presume, again wrongly, that China will seek hegemony after its rise, a belief that has aggravated their misgivings toward and fears over a fast-growing China. Some countries with overlapping sovereign claims with China in the seas believe the buildup of China's navy will hurt their alleged maritime interests, which they try to eternalize through illegal means.

As far as territorial disputes are concerned, China advocates that they be settled through political consultations. But defense means that it will respond accordingly if any country tries to encroach on its territory.

The development of the Chinese navy is for self-defense, and self-defense only, and aimed at maritime security and development. China has been solemnly committed to never seeking maritime hegemony or posing a threat to other countries even if its navy becomes one of the strongest in the world. It is China's long-cherished policy to seek maritime cooperation with other countries to contribute to regional and world peace.

The author is a senior captain and director of Naval Research Institute of the People's Liberation Army.

(China Daily 07/27/2012 page8)