Communist Party President Xi Jinping reviews the People’s Liberation Army Navy ceremonial guard in Qingdao, Shandong province, April 23, 2019, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Navy.
Communist Party President Xi Jinping attended the handing over and commissioning ceremony of three new major warships last Friday (April 23). Analysts see this as a bold step toward strengthening the Chinese Communist Navy’s control over disputed Asian waters, and a new challenge to increased U.S. influence in the region.
The three warships officially inducted into the Communist Party’s navy are, a strategic missile nuclear submarine, a large guided missile destroyer and an amphibious assault ship, according to official Chinese media. The Global Times, an arm of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, said the “unprecedented” concentration of installations “represents the rapid development of the People’s Liberation Army Navy and China’s shipbuilding industry in the face of enormous pressure on China’s military struggle.”
Some analysts say Chinese Communist Party officials believe the induction of the three ships creates a new way to deter U.S. warships from approaching waters off China’s coast and challenge other Asian countries that challenge the Communist Party’s maritime sovereignty and are slowly gaining military control within the “first island chain.
The First Island Chain stretches from Russia’s Thousand Islands in the north to the Philippines in the south, passing through Japan and Taiwan in between.
The situation is particularly critical in the South China Sea, a 3.5 million-square-kilometer shipping lane over which five militarily weak countries and regions – China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan – claim sovereignty, stretching from Hong Kong southward to Borneo.
The installation of these ships, and Xi Jinping’s personal presence at the handover ceremony, is a declaration to the region and the world that the PLA Navy has developed into an integrated, versatile and efficient maritime combat force,” said Fabrizio Bozzato, senior fellow at the Tokyo-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation’s Institute for the Study of Maritime Policy. force, with both near-shore defense capabilities and offshore active defense and distant sea combat capabilities.”
Chinese Communist Party officials cite historical use records to support their claim to roughly 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is of great interest for fisheries and fossil fuel reserves under the sea. The CCP has developed small islands in the waters, built military infrastructure, and sent ships deployed there into the exclusive economic zones of other claimants. These actions have raised the alarm of the countries involved.
The Chinese Communist Party has the most powerful military in Asia and has taken an aggressive stance in this part of the sea, forcing other claimants to seek support from the United States.
Beijing’s concern that former U.S. President Donald Trump may be planning an attack in disputed waters or near Taiwan has prompted China to warn incumbent President Joe Biden that it is ready for “any challenge,” said Sun Yun, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center’s East Asia Program in Washington.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii confirmed to Voice of America that 10 U.S. warships each entered the South China Sea last year and the year before. In the two years leading up to 2019, there will be only five ships in each year.
Sun Yun said Beijing’s high-profile publicity about the warships’ entry serves two purposes, one being to show the Communist Party that their country has grown in strength and “material wealth” under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Other countries around the world should be aware of this for different reasons.
Sun Yun said the CCP is taking this opportunity “to send another message of deterrence to the outside world, which is that, in the CCP’s view, any country involved in the South China Sea should be aware of the CCP’s growing maritime military capabilities and be prepared for the possible consequences of any possible violation in the eyes of the Chinese.”
Shariman Lockman, a senior foreign policy and security research analyst at Malaysia’s Institute Of Strategic And International Studies, said the induction of the three ships would not necessarily be as damaging to the waters as anything indicating that the Chinese Communist Party could exclusive economic zone for oil and gas equipment, as any move to panic Southeast Asian claimants. Malaysia is a particularly active explorer of subsea fuels.
“For us, both the oil and gas industries are important, so if there is any indication that they are going to dismantle the facilities there, people are going to be upset,” he said.
Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute Of International Affairs, said China eventually wants to “break through” the first island chain. He said increasing naval power is one way to achieve this process, but it could be a long one.
China’s navy had 512 ships as of 2012, according to the International Institute Of Strategic Studies, a British think tank. The military website GlobalFirepower.com says the Chinese Communist Party now has more than 700 ships.
Hu Yishan said, “The Chinese don’t like to show off what they do. Comparing the CCP to other powers, Hu Yishan said, “I wouldn’t say China is pursuing change in an invisible way, but it’s certainly very focused on gradualism. ‘If you can’t do it the hard way, do it the soft way.’ If they can get away with it, they will get away with it.”