The entire world is well aware of the rift between China and the United States. China has long been trying to surpass the U.S. economically, technologically and militarily.
However, some of Beijing’s most recent transgressions show that the Chinese government does not intend to play the defensive card.
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) recently released images of a fleet of four ships of China’s “People’s Liberation Army Navy” (PLAN) sailing near a U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
This comes at a time when China itself opposes any such activity around its own land or seas. The CCP is no stranger to hypocrisy and double standards, but Beijing seems to have outdone itself this time.
The independent website “The Drive” published photos shot in late August, but only recently were they delivered to the U.S. government’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS). “The Drive” revealed that the first caption given by DVIDS stated that “the PLAN taskforce included a guided-missile cruiser, a guided-missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel.”
Interestingly, the caption was subsequently modified to remove references to types of ships. The DVIDS caption now reads, “During a routine maritime patrol in the Bering Sea and Arctic region, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf spotted and established radio contact with Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task force in international waters within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, Aug. 30, 2021. All interactions between the U.S. Coast Guard and PLAN were following international laws. At no point did the PLAN task force enter U.S. territorial waters.”
China’s state-run Global Times stated that the four ships were probably from a flotilla that passed east from the Soya Strait on Aug. 24, which would have implied a course bringing them close to Alaska. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force identified the four ships as “a Type 055 destroyer Nanchang, a Type 052D destroyer Guiyang, a Type 903A supply ship with hull number 903, and a surveillance ship with hull number 799.”
The U.S. Navy characterizes Type 055 as a “cruiser,” not a “destroyer.” However, Type 055 vessels are currently the most exceptional surface warships developed by China. They are equipped with a high-level radar framework capable of engaging multiple air targets. They are also much larger than most surface warships, with the exception of aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.
Since 2020, China is believed to have enlisted three Type 055 class vessels into the PLAN. A solitary Type 055 class warship can carry over 100 missiles capable of striking aerial, aquatic, and terrestrial targets. Each ship is outfitted with artillery weapons, torpedoes and helicopters.
Military expert Wei Dongxu told the state-run Global Times: “The flotilla, led by the … Type 055 destroyer, displayed the PLA Navy’s rapid development in far-sea capabilities as Chinese warships are expected to train in more distant, unfamiliar waters in the future.”
China’s motive behind sending its warships into foreign waters is hard to discern. Nonetheless, the U.S. should brace itself for sudden attacks or attempts at annexation from China, neither of which would be anything new for the CCP regime.
At the same time, China’s provocations outside of its own territory have steadily increased, as Beijing takes advantage of the leniency of other nations.
To ensure deterrence against China, the U.S. has effectively increased its Asian fleet by sharing its nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia and deepening defense ties with the island nation.
With this nuclear-powered submarine deal with Australia, the U.S. has budged from its decades-long policy of not sharing nuclear technology. The Atomic Energy Act, passed in 1954, prohibits the U.S. from sharing nuclear technology with other nations. Other countries that have asked the U.S. to share such technology have been rebuffed.
Although Beijing now has a larger navy than Washington — China has rapidly beefed up its military power in recent years and spent more than 200 billion dollars this year alone on its military. The U.S. still holds the advantage below the sea surface with more advanced and powerful submarines that are difficult to detect.
Although Beijing has augmented its submarine warfare capabilities, Washington has stated that China still lacks strong deep-water anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
In response, China intends to improve its capability to deal with foreign military submarines, including conducting additional anti-submarine drills.
The U.S. Department of Defense has also stated that the sharing of technology by the U.S. will contribute to integrated deterrence in the region by increasing the U.S. military’s ability to work more effectively with its allies and defend their shared security interests.
According to security analysts, defense cooperation between the U.S., Australia, Japan and India—an alliance known as the “Quad”—could eventually lead to submarine fleet coordination in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad alliance exists to deal with the potential rise of China.
Currently, it is believed that the U.S. and China have approximately the same number of submarines. While all of the 52 U.S. attack submarines are nuclear-powered, only seven of China’s 62 attack submarines are nuclear-propelled; the remainder are diesel-powered. Nuclear-powered submarines are faster than diesel-powered vessels. The latter needs to surface frequently to clear exhaust and charge batteries that provide additional power.
Security analysts have also warned that China’s military capabilities will have advanced by the time Australia’s new nuclear-powered submarines are ready. While eight submarines are expected, only three are likely to be at sea at any given time.
Sam Roggeveen is Director of the International Security Program at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute. Recently, Mr. Roggeveen stated that the advancement of China’s military capabilities would constitute a major force that will further deter China’s adversaries.
The outcome of this “underwater arms race” between the world’s major powers remains to be seen. Knowing the Chinese government, one thing is clear: Nuclear submarines will not deter China from ratcheting up its conflict with Taiwan.
• Dr. Jianli Yang is the founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and the author of “For Us, The Living: A Journey to Shine the Light on Truth.”
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