The Chinese military, especially the navy, made great strides last year in improving its combat capabilities, enabling it to better defend the nation against threats to its sovereignty, according to analysts. As China Daily reports, less than a month after being named the head of China's Central Military Commission, President Xi Jinping asked PLA officers to adopt realistic combat criteria in military training. "It is the top priority for the military to be able to fight and win battles," he said during an inspection to the Guangzhou military theater of operations in December 2012. While some have suggested the rapidly expanding PLA navy is driving a seismic shift in Asia's military balance, Chinese experts have refuted such rhetoric, saying military moves by China are only aimed at creating improved self-defense by providing capabilities to match the other parties in the region.
"China should have a military that can match its power status," said Ma Gang, a professor at the People's Liberation Army National Defense University. "It is the only big country that has not achieved reunification and faces serious challenges to its sovereignty and several territorial disputes."
In November, China announced the creation of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, which requires aircraft to report their flight plans and establish identification communications while flying through the zone.
Japan's illegal purchase triggered strong protests from China and prompted it to start regular patrols around the islands last year. In July, five PLA warships steamed out of the Sea of Japan, through the Soya Strait and completed the Chinese navy's first circumnavigation of the Japanese archipelago.
Cao Weidong, a researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said such activities would not increase tensions and that China's stance remains defensive, while its naval forces are still dwarfed by traditional maritime powers.
"Instead, Washington is shifting 60 percent of its warships to the Pacific and Tokyo is gearing up to build a fully fledged military. China is suffering from the threat of escalating conflict," he said.
James Holmes, a maritime strategist at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and a former US Navy surface warfare officer, said, "Naval commentators suggest the bellicose rhetoric shows that both sides are struggling to adjust to their new rivalry.
"And, the Japanese do regional tranquility no service by being alarmed when China's navy transits international straits in a perfectly lawful manner," Holmes told Reuters.
A stronger Chinese military will be able to play a bigger role in serving global peace, he said.
Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China is the largest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping missions.
In the past five years, China has sent 16 fleets composed of 42 warships to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, escorting 5,465 vessels and rescuing 42 ships attacked by pirates.
"It is normal for the world to have some suspicions about the Chinese military build-up, while mutual understanding can only be improved through communication."