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Chinese navy officers stand on deck of a ship upon arrival in Yangon, Myanmar. Chinese navy officers stand on deck upon arrival at Thilawa International Port, Yangon, Myanmar, Sept. 30, 2016 (AP photo by Thein Zaw).

China’s Military Modernization Takes To The Seas

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019

China’s military modernization is expanding to the open ocean, and the U.S. Navy is worried. Find out more when you subscribe to World Politics Review (WPR).

While the United States Navy struggles to figure out if, how and when it can expand the size of its combat fleet by 47 ships—a 15 percent increase—China’s military modernization efforts are cranking out around a dozen new large warships a year. Recently, the busy shipyard in the port city Dalian put to sea China’s second aircraft carrier, following up on that milestone two months later by simultaneously launching two Type 055-class cruisers. With the U.S. Navy being the only other fleet to operate a large number of vessels of such size and capability, the pace and scale of production at Chinese shipyards is a sign of Beijing’s desire for a fleet commensurate with its perceived status as a great power.

Displacing more than 10,000 tons, the Type 055-class cruisers are large, multirole warships similar to the U.S. Navy’s high-end Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Such warships constitute the backbone of navies focused on high-intensity naval combat. Even a decade ago, the Chinese navy had only a handful of ships capable of providing a broad range of naval combat capabilities over a large area. Today, by contrast, China has 20 large and modern multirole cruisers and destroyers in service, with another 10 in the water awaiting completion and a further seven under construction. Remarkably, most of these warships have been built since 2010.

Learn more about China’s aircraft carrier and warship construction, and the overall pace of China’s military modernization, in China’s Naval Buildup Is a Real Challenge to the U.S. Navy’s Dominance for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

In China, Aircraft Carrier Construction Is A Sign Of Things To Come

The past several years have seen impressive advances in the Chinese navy’s capabilities. In 2015, the year China revealed that it had begun building its second aircraft carrier, it also launched its first submarine nuclear deterrent patrols. That same year, breaking its past convention against military bases in other countries, China announced that arrangements had been made for its first military support base abroad, in Djibouti. The Chinese navy is expanding its capabilities and operations to reduce vulnerabilities in China’s near seas, but also to aggressively support its expanding global ambitions. This is consistent with a military strategy white paper published in 2015 that called for the navy to “shift its focus” from near-seas defense to a “combination of near seas defense and ‘distant sea protection.’” But China’s military modernization also has another overriding goal: to challenge U.S. leadership in Asia.

To learn more about the goals of China’s naval buildup and strategy, read China’s Naval Modernization: Where Is It Headed? for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.


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China’s Armed Forces Evolve To Tackle New Missions

China’s naval modernization is just one component of an overall military modernization campaign that has aimed to transform the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, into a smaller, more efficient and more professional fighting force with increased tactical and technological sophistication. Thanks to years of increased military spending corresponding with economic growth, China’s air, sea and ground forces and its long-range strike capabilities have acquired more modern equipment and can project greater military power across farther distances. In 2016, the government announced further plans to make large changes in Chinese military structure, with troop cuts and significant structural changes to the PLA, in order to raise the PLA’s combat effectiveness and administrative efficiency, while curtailing corruption and enhancing civilian control over the military. However, achieving these diverse goals, some of which could conflict with one another, will require the government to overcome significant obstacles.

Is China’s military modernization and naval expansion sustainable? Learn more, in PLA Military Reforms: Defense Power With Chinese Characteristics for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

China’s Defense Industry Is Also Going Global

China’s military modernization has benefitted from the rapid advances made by its domestic defense industrial sector. In November 2018, at its flagship biennial airshow in the southern city of Zhuhai, China displayed the latest accomplishments of its aerospace and defense industries. This year’s exhibition provides further evidence of China’s emergence as a major defense industrial power, one capable of equipping the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and foreign militaries with world-class military equipment. In the context of intensifying great-power competition between the United States and China, the rapidly increasing capacities of China’s defense industry are likely to play an important role in helping Beijing realize its goal of turning the PLA into a top-tier military and cementing China’s fast-improving military position in Asia.

Learn more about how China’s domestic defense industry is also going global, in The Zhuhai Airshow Confirms China’s Emergence as a Defense Industrial Power for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

Learn more about China’s military modernization, the changes in the Chinese military’s organizational structure, and so much more in the searchable library of World Politics Review (WPR):


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Editor's Note: This article was first published in November 2018 and is regularly updated.