China has made two things absolutely clear this year: 1) if Beijing thinks you may be inclined to sell stocks into a falling market, the consequences for you could be dire, and 2) the PLA navy is quite serious about projecting China’s maritime ambitions to the rest of the world.
Evidence of the latter point is readily observable in the South China Sea, where dredgers have been busy for months building man-made islands atop reefs in the Spratlys much to the chagrin of Washington and its regional allies.
Then there was the PLA’s unexpected arrival in Yemen back in March when a naval frigate showed up in Aden and evacuated 225 foreign nationals.
(Chinese soldiers in Yemen)
And who can forget the five ships that cruised by just 12 miles off the coast of Alaska as Obama toured the state.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, at least one commander in Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army now claims Chinese personnel are on their way to Latakia.
All of this comes as Beijing rolls out a new maritime initiative as outlined in the government’s 2015 defense strategy white paper. Here’s an excerpt from the report:
In line with the strategic requirement of offshore waters defense and open seas protection, the PLA Navy (PLAN) will gradually shift its focus from "offshore waters defense" to the combination of "offshore waters defense" with "open seas protection," and build a combined, multi-functional and efficient marine combat force structure. The PLAN will enhance its capabilities for strategic deterrence and counterattack, maritime maneuvers, joint operations at sea, comprehensive defense and comprehensive support.
Now, even as Xi Jinping makes the rounds in the US and attempts to provide the American public with some clarity on a number of issues not the least of which is cyber security, the Pentagon says China is set to deploy a nuclear submarine armed with JL-2 missiles that have the range to hit the US. Here’s Bloomberg with the story:
A new Chinese nuclear submarine designed to carry missiles that can hit the U.S. will likely deploy before year’s end, the Pentagon said, adding to Obama administration concerns over China’s muscle-flexing in Asia.
China’s navy is expected this year to conduct the first patrol of its Jin-class nuclear-powered submarine armed with JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a statement. It declined to give its level of confidence on when the new boat will be deployed or the status of the missile.
“The capability to maintain continuous deterrent patrols is a big milestone for a nuclear power,” Larry Wortzel, a member of the congressionally created U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said in an e-mail. “I think the Chinese would announce this capability as a show of strength and for prestige.”
Wortzel said his commission’s 2015 report probably will include a comment from PLA Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli, who said the submarine-missile combination is “a trump card that makes our motherland proud and our adversaries terrified.”
China’s increased naval might, as well as its assertion to territory in the contested South China Sea and East China Sea, has helped spur the region’s largest military buildup in decades and caused disquiet in the U.S. about its role as the region’s peace keeper.
China currently has at least four Jin-class submarines. Fifty-one years after the country carried out its first nuclear test, patrols by the new submarines will give Xi greater agility to respond to a nuclear attack, according to analysts.
“Of all the PLA strategic deterrence capabilities, the sea-based link is the most closely guarded secret because it is meant to be the most secure of the deterrents for China,” said Koh, who studies China’s naval modernization.
The JL-2 “has nearly three times the range” of China’s current sea-launched ballistic missile “which was only able to range targets in the immediate vicinity of China,” the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence said in an April report on China’s Navy. The JL-2 “underwent successful testing in 2012 and is likely ready to enter the force,” it said. “Once deployed it will provide China with a capability to strike targets” in the continental U.S., it said.
For those curious, here is the JL-2 in action:
And here's a bit more color from the Pentagon's annual report to Congress:
The PLA Navy places a high priority on the modernization of its submarine force. China continues the production of JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Three JIN-class SSBNs (Type 094) are currently operational, and up to five may enter service before China proceeds to its next generation SSBN (Type 096) over the next decade. The JIN-class SSBN will carry the new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) with an estimated range of 7,400 km. The JIN-class and the JL-2 will give the PLA Navy its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent. China is likely to conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrols with the JIN-class SSBN in 2014.
Ultimately, the deployment was planned and as indicated above, this doesn't exactly come as a surprise to anyone in military circles, but what it does do is underscore the idea that the return to bipolarity is more likely to see China as the counterbalance to US hegemony than it is to see a resurrgent Russia retake its place as US spoiler par excellence. Of course Beijing and Moscow seem generally to be on the same page as evidenced by their security council veto coordination on Syria which means that between the two, the balance of power could move against the US especially if Washington's warnings about the UK's declining military capabilities prove accurate.
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Full report on PLA navy from US Office of Naval Intelligence