Shanghai: China`s Navy is playing an
important role in the country`s drive to become a world
military power, with the recent trials of its first aircraft
carrier underlining the scale of Beijing`s naval ambitions.
China has become increasingly assertive on the high seas
and the carrier`s first outing last month sparked jitters in
the United States and Japan, which said the move would have a
"big impact" on the region.
The People`s Liberation Army (PLA) -- the largest armed
force in the world -- is primarily a land force. But the Navy
is playing an increasing role as Beijing grows more assertive
about its territorial claims, notably in the East China Sea
and South China Sea.
On a rare visit on board the Anqing, a missile frigate at
the Eastern Fleet base in Ningbo, south of Shanghai,
journalists were accompanied by a group of officers as
soldiers looked on impassively.
The officers were giving little away and the ship
appeared to serve as a museum piece as much as a warship.
"As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China
must take greater responsibility in world affairs," Captain
Wei Hua, chief of staff of the Shanghai naval base, told the
"We have some 18,000 kilometres of coastline and over
three million square kilometres of maritime area. It is
therefore very important to build a powerful navy to protect
the country and its interests."
Taiwan, which has been self-governed since the end of a
civil war in 1949 but which China still regards as part of its
territory, remains key to Beijing`s defence strategy, but is
far from its only interest.
Beijing lays claim to swathes of the South China Sea
which are also claimed by its smaller neighbours, and must
also secure supply routes and new sources of raw materials to
fuel its booming economy.
"Beijing intends to bring the (South) China Sea, which it
regards as its backyard, firmly within its sphere of
influence," said one international defence expert.
Since 2007, at the request of President Hu Jintao, the
navy has held a permanent seat on the Central Military
Commission, China`s powerful supreme military authority.
And now the Navy is looking further afield -- it already
participates in the fight against Somali pirates in the Indian
"In the same way that the country is developing, the
Chinese navy is growing," said Wei.
The 2.3-million-member PLA is extremely secretive about
its defence programmes, which benefit from a huge and
expanding military budget boosted by the nation`s runaway