Friday, April 24, 2009

A strong naval presence is necessary for respect as a global power

By China Watcher

I witnessed the impressive display of the Chinese armada of ships at the port city of Qingdao for the 60th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army on television yesterday.

For once, I was proud to note the progress made by the Chinese navy from the heydays of coastal ships and frigates in the 1950s to what it is today. The show-stopper was obviously the 2 nuclear submarines which led the flotilla of ships at sea. The Chinese fleet comprises 56 vessels, including submarines, an array of destroyers and frigates, and missile boats.

I do agree that in terms of firepower and technology the Chinese navy is still two or maybe three notches lower than the US but the gap is slowly closing in given the committed will of the Chinese people to accelerate the development of its navy by making better submarines, destroyers and long-range missiles. A senior Chinese naval officer has already indicated the need to construct at least one aircraft carrier to be ready by 2013. I am of the opinion that the presence of a large carrier is more for power projection and image rather than for improving latent fighting power.

The heavy movement of the carrier is actually a liability rather than an advantage in a war situation. The carriers without air and sea protection are easy target for submarines. Bigger modern ships are now better equipped with accurate missiles and together with its advanced anti-submarine features coupled with the ability to move faster, in numbers, would definitely add firepower. Single-purpose and a few wide-platform ships for aircraft movement instead of one large single carrier that would reduce the single-point vulnerability risk, is one important point the Chinese navy should consider when developing “big” ships.

A western media, Reuters, of which I could sense its envious attitude made a passing comment that the US and Vietnamese relationship have progressively improved with the single visit of several Vietnamese military officers on the US aircraft carrier off the coast of Hanoi two days ago. And it added that the Vietnamese are wary of Beijing’s fleet modernization because of the country’s outstanding territorial issues with China. Western media are always good at making inferences, which are merely assumptions, to suit its very own agenda – to constantly highlight Chinese threat and to preserve US superiority in the Asia-Pacific region.

Personally, I think there are only two Asian countries of which its leaders and its people are concerned over China’s military growth (including its naval improvements) and perhaps, to a certain extent China’s economic growth namely India and Japan.

India has always harbored an inert “jealously” tendency over China ever since it lost the Sino-Indian border war with China in 1962. The “could-not-accept” attitude grows over the years and it deteriorated, when it realized that its economic size is only one-quarter of China. Further, India is gradually losing control even in its own sphere of influence in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myammar and most recently, in Maoist controlled Nepal. This is a fact but the Western media selectively choose not to highlight negative development affecting its “democratic” allies. China have made attempts to improve Sino-Indian ties through stronger people to people relations but all these had been shunned by the past and present Indian government due to the deep mistrust. The “comparison only china syndrome” is an indication of the deep estrangement that had not gone away. Two can actually play the game. China should cast a watchful eye on the rapid development of Indian military especially on its missile development, which I think is not only targeting the country's main rival Pakistan but China.

Japan is the other country who had yet to recover from its “prideful” defeat during the Second World War and the Liberal Party controlled government – past and present – had not genuinely shown any remorse to the countless sufferings the imperialist army had inflicted on the Chinese and Koreans. Even after nearly 60 years, the subject of the Japanese army is still very sensitive to the people in China and Korea. A recent survey in Japan stated that 70% of the Japanese do not like the Chinese and in China, an equally big percentage of Chinese (75%) also dislike the Japanese people. You see there are always two sides to a coin. But the Western media selectively choose to publish only one side of the story. Historically, the Japanese have been taught to consider themselves as more superior than the other races, besides the Germans and the Jews. In the eyes of the Japanese, the Chinese were at the lowest rungs of the race category and were called “the sick man of Asia” nearly seven decades ago. Even though the Japanese people have not outwardly displayed their true resentful character it had not been able to accept the reality that ultimately it had to play “second fiddle” to China in Asia. Until and unless these perceived superiority thoughts are discarded, the estrangement would remain and any military advancement by China would be taken as a threat.

The flexing of the Chinese naval muscle is also to show to the US that China presently has the ability to deny the US navy access to certain waters in the region, most likely the water surrounding Taiwan.

If there is tension in the Taiwan Straits, the US would now think twice before sending two aircraft carriers like what it did in 1996 to the contested area. The writing on the wall is very clear. Whether the US or its allies like it or not, it had to contend with a strong China – both militarily and economically.

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