One topic we’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing is the rise of the PLA navy.
2015 was the year Xi reasserted China’s maritime might - and not just in the South Pacific.
By now, the entire world is well versed in the story of Beijing’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. China has effectively created more than 3,000 acres of new sovereign territory in the Spratlys by piling sand atop reefs. The new “sand castles” - as the US calls them - are now home to an airstrip capable of landing military aircraft, ports, cement factories, a lighthouse, gardens, pigs, soldiers, and Xi only knows what else.
Suffice to say Washington’s regional allies aren’t amused and the Spratly archipelago has been a major foreign policy stumbling block for The White House since at least April.
But the PLA navy’s activities weren’t confined to dredging up sand in 2015. China also showed up unexpectedly at the besieged Yemeni port of Aden to evacuate civilians as the Houthis advanced on the city. That was a rare move for the Chinese. So rare in fact, that it took newswires hours to verify who exactly the soldiers were.
And there was of course the PLA’s trip by the Alaskan coast, just as Obama was visiting the state.
Now, China says it's building a second aircraft carrier. "China’s navy currently operates an aircraft carrier built from an imported Soviet-era hull, called the Liaoning, after the northeastern Chinese province where it is based," WSJ notes. "Analysts say the Liaoning serves mainly as a training ship."
"The carrier is designed entirely by China, [and is] being constructed in Dalian," China's Ministry of Defense says. It will "use a conventional power plant" (as opposed to nuclear), and will "carry domestic J-15 aircraft." Early last month, China sent J-11BH/BHS fighter jets to Woody Island, south of Hainan.
Earlier this year, a US military assestment of China's navy said Beijing "continues to pursue an indigenous aircraft carrier program and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years."
Needless to say, this is just one more sign that China is preparing to meaningfully expand its maritime capabilities on the way to building a true blue water navy. This of course also comes as tensions continue to rise in both the South China Sea (see the recent protest by dozens of Filipinos in the Spratlys) and the East China Sea (where Beijing and Tokyo are feuding over disputed islands and claims on oil and gas fields).
Get the popcorn.
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Below, find a complete recognition and identification guide for the PLA navy