PLA navy will reach wide, US predicts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 January, 2010, 12:00am

An assessment of the People's Liberation Army Navy inadvertently released by the US Office of Naval Intelligence suggests the mainland will build a naval force over the next 10 to 15 years that is equipped for operations 'well beyond its traditional operating areas around Taiwan and the South China Sea', Jane's Defence Weekly reported.

The ONI report said the overall size of the PLA's navy might remain relatively steady as Beijing put emphasis on quality over quantity. It expected future naval fleets to 'include one or more aircraft carriers' and many modernised attack submarines. It said the government would speed up the building of submarines and naval air forces 'in the next five to 10 years before levelling off'. The PLA would add approximately 10 modern submarines to the force, the report said.

It said preparing for possible armed conflict over Taiwan would remain the navy's top priority. But the need to secure vital sea lanes for the mainland's growing commercial fleets, combined with rising domestic and international pressure for Beijing to take up greater security responsibilities in the region, would drive the navy to expand its operations beyond Taiwan, the American intelligence report concluded.

It said East Asia contained 'numerous hot spots and potential conflicts that challenge China's interests'.

The report, titled A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics, was briefly placed online as an open-source document by the ONI in November before being withdrawn from public view, Jane's said.

The report noted that while the PLA had been adding impressive new ships and hardware to its naval fleet, the command-and-control structure had 'yet to catch up with the sophistication of the PLA's newest surface platforms [warships]'.

The ONI believed the navy, as a next step, would focus more on improving the command structure, providing better training and modernising tactical doctrines. Air defence also remained the weakest link for the navy, it said.

The PLA's rapid military build-up over the past few years has attracted worldwide attention. On Monday, the PLA tested a missile interceptor in space, prompting the Pentagon to ask Beijing for clarification over its plans and intentions.

US State Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday called on China to step up military exchanges with the US to build confidence.

'The relationship China has with its neighbours as well as the United States and the rest of the world will be crucial to what happens in the 21st century,' Clinton said in Hawaii.

'Similarly, we hope that there will be increasing trust-building between our militaries ... We each have our national interests. We each have to be primarily responsible for our own people. But I honestly believe that both the Chinese and American people will be safer and more prosperous in the future if we have a good, solid relationship between our two countries,' she said.