On Point: China's Navy Gets Bigger, but Why?


by Austin Bay
December 28, 2010

Conditions -- and human intentions -- can change quickly,but creating capabilities takes time.

This applies in virtually every realm of human endeavor. Theglobal recession has required painful economic adjustment that in the case of anation like Greece may take decades to repair. An epidemic can strike, but avaccine or cure may take years to develop.

 It takes years todevelop military capabilities, to include weapons technology and trainingpeople to use them. In the mid-1930s, Winston Churchill saw Germany expandingits military capabilities. Churchill warned that Adolf Hitler intended to startanother European war, but he was ignored. All too often, one man's prescienceis another man's paranoid fantasy. Great Britain entered World War II with asmall air force, despite the documented expansion of Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe.The British just managed to win the Battle of Britain, but it was a near thing.

Building a navy requires a particularly long lead time. Thedesigning, financing and building of ships requires thinking in terms of atleast two decades. Providing experienced commanders and trained crews takeslonger.

The Chinese Navy's expansion program began in the 1990s, asChina's fleet began to venture away from China's coast and develop blue water(open ocean) capabilities. Now Chinese submarines encounter U.S. Navy taskforces, and Chinese warships turn up in the Indian Ocean. China may launch itsfirst aircraft carrier in 2011. It will take years to produce carrier pilotsand crew comparable to those in the Navy, but acquiring the technology is ahuge step.

What does China intend to do with its carrier? The rest ofAsia, from India to Japan, wants to know. For example, Chinese maritime claimsin the South China Sea conflict sharply with those of Vietnam and thePhilippines. A carrier extends China's offensive reach in this contested seazone.

The carrier is one piece of a complex puzzle that includesnew surface ships, aircraft and missiles. This week, U.S. Pacific Commandcommander Adm. Robert Willard told a Japanese newspaper that China's Dongfeng21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) had achieved "initial operationalcapability."

The DF-21D gives Chinese land forces a weapon that can sinka U.S. carrier at long range. This means U.S. naval forces supporting SouthKorea, Japan or Taiwan face higher risks as they approach the mainland, whichU.S. analysts conclude is China's intention. The acronym for this strategy isA2/AD, for "anti-access/area denial," which is more diplomatic thancalling it "U.S.-Japan, go away."

Chinese naval theorists discuss extending China's reachbeyond "the first island chain" (roughly Japan, Taiwan and the SouthChina Sea) to the second (a wide arc running from Singapore through Guam andthen north to Japan). Some U.S. analysts conclude this translates as "U.S.Navy, go further away."

Are these new Chinese naval, air, space and land forcesnecessarily directed at the U.S.? The Chinese point out that India sits astrideChina's sea lines of communication (SLOCs) with Southwest Asia and Africa. TheChinese economic miracle requires Middle Eastern energy and African minerals.The Indian Navy could quickly cut the supply chain, unless China has a navycapable of protecting it.

A war in Asia, with Japan, the U.S. or India, even one withTaiwan, puts the Chinese economy at risk. China's leaders claim their biggestproblem is creating 25 million new jobs a year. China's economy depends onglobal trade. Which leads to another line of analysis: China does not seek awar, but it wants to guarantee its own maritime trade security and does notwant to rely on the U.S. Navy to protect it. Hence, the increase incapabilities.

But if and when conditions change? The Japanese note thatJapan is the fulcrum for both Chinese island lines. Theoretical chatter is onething, but the emerging Chinese capabilities are beyond dispute. The Japanesebelieve they need capabilities. Tokyo recently announced it will more fullyintegrate its military forces with American forces and will develop mobileforces capable of defending its southern islands. 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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