What is the outlook for the Chinese power projection in 2020? What is certain is that China will continue to grow and modernise its armed forces, with a particular focus on the Chinese Navy.
China’s Aircraft carriers
As this issue went to press, China was commissioning its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong Type 001A. This is the first carrier to be constructed in China as the first operational carrier, the Liaoning, was purchased from the Ukraine in 1998.
Both carriers incorporate a ski-jump take-off design. Reports about its air wing vary, with the Shandong likely to carry between 36-44 Shenyang J-15 fighters as well as a number of helicopters. This compares to around 24 J-15s on the Liaoning.
A third carrier is under construction and may have a catapult launch capability allowing a greater range of aircraft to operate from its deck.
South and East China Seas
No doubt that the increasing number of Chinese Navy aircraft carriers will further expand its presence in the South and East China Seas, further strengthening its island campaign while continuing to and building an ever more credible challenge to the US Navy.
This maritime air capability, together with China’s deployment of anti-ship cruise missiles, such as the YJ-12B has been a worrying development not only for those nations who freely use the shipping lanes in the sea areas already mentioned, but signal the potential for the Navy to range beyond its backyard.
China’s first internationally recognised military base was established in August 2017 in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support Base is operated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This will allow the Chinese Navy to roam across the Indian Ocean thanks to this supply base in eastern Africa.
According to the annual Department of Defense (DoD) report to Congress, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019, published in May 2019, “China will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries.” The report states that further expansion could occur in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the western Pacific..
Belt and Road Initiative
The strategic reasons behind the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative, started in 2013 initially to boost infrastructure development and investment in 152 countries and international organisations, are now being backed by military presence and muscle. With China joining Russia in joint maritime and air exercises, as reported in past articles of Asian Military Review, its ambition to rival the United States as a global power, backed by military might, is coming ever closer.