Over the New Year's holiday, the Chinese government launched yet another trial balloon to test international reaction to its expanding military reach. The move came in the form of an interview reproduced by the Defense Ministry's Web site, in which a retired admiral called for China to acquire its first permanent overseas naval base. Although the ministry quickly distanced itself from the proposal, we can expect to see further expressions of Chinese interest in acquiring naval bases in coming years.
On Dec. 30, the Defense Ministry's Web site posted the interview with Adm. Yin Zhuo, who often comments on China's military relations with foreign countries, in which he observed, "I feel that would be appropriate if we could have a relatively stable, fixed base for supplies and maintenance." Yin noted that the first of the four People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task forces sent to the Gulf of Aden had to spend 123 days at sea without calling at any port, leading to resupply, medical, and morale problems. He observed that a Chinese coastal base would provide Chinese sailors with assured access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and water, as well as communications, repair, medical, and rest and recreation facilities.
Yin took care to emphasize in his interview that he foresaw the need for only a few bases, and that they would help the People's Republic of China (PRC) meet the growing expectations placed on Beijing as a global stakeholder. "We are not saying we need our navy everywhere in order to fulfill our international commitments," he explained. "We are saying [that] to fulfill our international commitments, we need to strengthen our supply capacity." Although Yin understood that some countries might not welcome such a decision, he added that, "If China establishes a similar long-term supply base, I believe that the nations in the region and the other countries involved with the [counterpiracy] escorts would understand."