July 6, 2009:
China has just launched its first RoRo (Roll On, Roll Off) ship designed and built in China. This ship has considerable military use, as it can carry up to 5,000 vehicles (cars and light trucks), or over a thousand armored vehicles. This new ship, the "Spirit" is 14,400 tons displacement, 567 feet long, 100 feet wide and 105 feet high. It has nine fixed and three adjustable decks for vehicles. A RoRo ship moves next to a dock and then deploys ramps so that its cargo of vehicles can drive right off. If, for example, China were invading Taiwan, a RoRo ship could move into a recently captured port, and unload an armored brigade in a few hours.
The owner of "Spirit" is COSCO (China Ocean Shipping Co.), which operates a fleet of over 700 cargo, tanker and RoRo ships. COSCO is owned by the Chinese government, and its ships are available for use by the military. COSCO is a $20 billion a year business, that also owns ship repair facilities and port operations around the world.
COSCO has been scrambling to buy or build more RoRo ships, mainly because Chinese automobile manufacturers are exporting more cars to developing countries (where the cheaper, some going for $5,000, Chinese vehicles are very popular). Four years ago, COSCO had only three small RoRo ships, and they had to use Japanese RoRo ships, and pay dearly for that, to move most of its exported cars. Most of the RoRo ships in the world are owned by Japanese shippers. Noting the military usefulness of RoRo ships, COSCO was ordered to build these ships in China, where they could be optimized for military use.
That's not all COSCO does for the Chinese government. The company also provides cover for Chinese spy operations, and any "special operations" the Chinese Navy needed help with. However, it appears that COSCO is more into espionage than previously thought. As American counter-terrorism activities increased in out-of-the-way places, they often found that, not only was COSCO already there, but so were plenty of Chinese intelligence personnel, operating under the cover of COSCO employees. It was a near-perfect fit. Port operations are the center of much of what goes into, and comes out of, a country. In many poor countries, the local officials who oversee foreign operators like COSCO can be bribed to look the other way when "special" cargo goes in, or out. COSCO also moves sensitive people, and material, for the Chinese military. It's never been a secret that COSCO works closely with Chinese military and intelligence agencies, but the degree of cooperation has been increasing. COSCO has also been caught smuggling illegal cargos (weapons, hazardous waste, and so on).