Chinese Navy's Blue Water Dreams

It's now official. That China is building a blue water navy capable of operating far from its shores has been known for a while to observers of the rapid military modernization in Asia. Beijing's biennial White Paper on defence issued this week simply confirms it.

Unlike the previous reports, issued since 1998, the White Paper is expansive in identifying a range of missions for the armed forces in both war and peace. As Chinese armed forces look beyond their borders, the Navy's role as a flexible instrument has acquired greater salience in Chinese military strategy.

China's mastery of blue water capability, the white paper says, involves "conducting mobile operations, carrying out international cooperation, and countering non-traditional security threats" in distant waters. It also includes the nuclear mission—"strategic deterrence and counter attack".

Contrary to some observers who were downplaying the aircraft carrier that Beijing commissioned last year, the White Paper says the carrier, Liaoning, "has a profound impact on building a strong PLAN and safeguarding maritime security".

Organised around three commands—northern, eastern and southern—the Chinese navy has a total strength of 235,000 officers and men.  

Among the new roles for its armed forces identified by the White Paper is the effective conduct of "military operations other than war" (MOOTW). These operations include "emergency response and rescue, merchant vessel protection at sea and evacuation of Chinese nationals".

Underlying it is the recognition that the Chinese navy must now prepare for a much wider range of security challenges than the mere defence of its territories at land and sea.

The White Paper says Chinese navy is focused on the "task force formation in blue water". The Navy, "organizes the training of different formations of combined task forces composed of new types of destroyers, frigates, ocean-going replenishment ships and ship borne helicopters".

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