People's Liberation Army Navy
The People's Liberation Army Navy [PLAN] remains more or less precisely what is implied by its rather paradoxical [at least to Western ears] sounding name -- the maritime force of a continental power. The Chinese sea-faring tradition largely ended with the demise of the 15th century Treasure Fleets, and half a century of Communist state power has done little to reverse the landward focus of Chinse security planning. Large numbers of aircraft and patrol boats armed with anti-ship cruise missiles provide a formidable coastal defense perimeter. But the PLAN remains little more than a "brown water" coastal defense with limited "green water" capabilities, and no pretense of "blue water" aspirations. Despite a few recent noteworthy additions, the Chinese fleet is overwhelmingly populated with elderly and evidently obsolete units. Even the most recently constructed ships are evdidently defficient in anti-air and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
While manifestly lacking in the robust blue-water power-projection capabilities of the United States Navy, the People's Liberation Army Navy is reasonably well postured to perform the brown-water and green-water sea denial missions with which it is tasked as a matter of national policy. The PLAN has not failed in an attempt to match the US Navy. Rather, it has made substantial progress towards mounting an assymetric sea-denial response to American power-projection capabilities, while at the same time deploying forces that are not inferior in overall combat potential to other regional maritime powers.
Beijing's early modernization efforts primarily will benefit the People's Liberation Army Navy and People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) over the next five years and those services can be expected to expand their areas of operations slowly as they absorb new equipment. Moreover, the frequency and duration of PLAN patrols in the East and South China Seas and the western Pacific will increase in a three phase, "crawl, walk, run" approach. By 2010, expect those operations to include frequent short duration "show the flag" ship deployments in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans; by 2025, long duration theater-wide deployments; and, by 2050, a significant PLAN operating presence throughout Asia.
The PLA Navy is making efforts to improve its regional force projection options by improving the capability to deploy submarines on extended patrols, and outfitting surface ships with more capable air defense assets and more lethal anti-ship cruise missiles.In addition, the Navy is attempting to address weaknesses in anti-submarine warfare. Despite incremental gains, the PLAN still lacks fleet air defense, over-the-horizon targeting, and sufficient sea/air lift for major amphibious operations. The PLA is addressing these deficiencies, but does not appear likely to make significant gains in those areas until at least 2005.
China's Naval Strategy
The PLAN seeks to push its maritime defense perimeter further seaward. This change in operations will require newer, more modern warships and submarines capable of operating out to the Ryukyu Islands and into the South China Sea. At these extended ranges, the platforms will have to be better armed to enable defense from all methods of attack. The Navy has been conducting research and acquiring foreign technology in an effort to improve the broad range of naval warfare capabilities; it also is acquiring new classes of ships that will be better suited for operations out to the limits of the East and South China Seas.
The PRC believes that the greatest potential for sea conflicts might erupt at the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Thus, the "Emergency Mobile Force" is assigned to the East Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet. Although the North Sea Fleet has a better equipment, yet generally speaking, the total combat capabilities of the East Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet are superior to others.
The semi-annual People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) out-of-area deployments and port visits are maritime diplomacy conducted as an integral part of Beijing's global and regional engagement strategy. These goodwill deployments demonstrate China's slowly emerging "blue water" capability and presence. Although China's naval fleet is not on par with U.S. technological standards, these port visits highlight to lesser-equipped regional actors that next to the U.S. and India, it is China that can project regional influence and presence into the western Pacific and Indian Ocean. This recent voyage to European waters compliments Chinese diplomatic initiatives with the European Union geared towards securing entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), that is expected in November.
Since 1980, 15 groups of Chinese naval ships have visited 20 countries. In 1989, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) conducted its first port visit to a U.S. port since the 1949 Communist Revolution, when DAXIN AXT-81 Zheng He visited Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Zheng He was named after the head of the 15th Century Ming Dynasty trade fleet, who ventured as far as the African coast. With the US now China's 2nd largest trading partner and biggest foreign investor, the symbolism of sending Zheng He was fitting. The next U.S. port call wasn't until eight year later, when three PLAN warships visited Pearl Harbor and San Diego, California in 1997. Since then, PLAN warships have been conducting semi-annual "out of area" deployments. In 2000, PLAN warships conducted two major deployments, one that brought them as far as South Africa and the other to the U.S. West Coast. In the spring of 2001, PLAN warships conducted one deployment to India and Pakistan. China's Premier Zhu Rongji recently concluded a 4-nation trip to Europe where he furthered trade relations and was ensured European Union (EU) support for Beijing's pending World Trade Organization (WTO) bid, which is expected in November this year. The EU and China are also in the process of negotiating a free access Sino-EU maritime pact.
Two ships of the Chinese Navy left Shanghai August 23, 2001 for a goodwill visit to Germany, Britain, France and Italy. The two ships - the Shenzhen, a guided missile destroyer, and the Fengcang, a support vessel - were both designed and manufactured in China, and will visit the European continent for the first time. The ships will travel over 23,000 sea miles in 85 days, equivalent to circling the earth via the equator. Wu Fuchun, commander of the naval ships, said that this visit marks that Chinese naval ships have now journeyed to five of the world 's continents, across three oceans. The newest indigenously produced addition to the fledgling blue water fleet of China's People's Liberation Army Navy, the Luhai-class guided missile destroyer, Shenzhen, emerged from the Dalian shipyard in August 1998. Following the successful completion of sea trials in late 1998, Shenzhen joined the Zhanjiang-based South Sea Fleet on 1 January 1999. It previously conducted an out-of-area deployment to Africa in 2000.
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