Of all China’s advances in shipbuilding, none has garnered more attention than its nascent fleet of warships. After having carried out a series of maneuvers, the new Type 075 carrier went on to further worry its rivals in Asia and rightly so, highlights Christian Le Miere, founder of the strategic consultancy Arcipel.
Once commissioned with the Chinese Navy, possibly in 2021, this amphibious assault ship will become the largest ship in its fleet. It is an immensely powerful floating platform that was designed not only to allow up to 30 helicopters to land on board but also to wage a coastal war in disputed spaces, recalls the foreign policy adviser in his article for the Chinese newspaper The South China Morning Post.
In November 2020, the first Type 075 vessel conducted the second round of maneuvers in the South China Sea. Satellite images analyzed by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies suggest that the ship had sailed in disputed waters escorted by five ships. During the first round of tests, which took place in August 2020, the Type 075 passed off the coast of Shanghai on its maiden voyage.
More than a week after the appearance of this helicopter carrier in the South China Sea, Beijing also dispatched three Type 07 amphibious assault landing ships to the same area. These two activities represent a strong diplomatic maneuver that gained even greater prominence from a strategic point of view due to the small time difference between them, says the author of the article.
A message that’s clear to all
Although the Chinese warships will not be able to rival the amphibious fleet of the United States, nor will they pose a direct threat to the North American country, they will cause some concern in the states of East and Southeast Asia, many of which have territorial disputes with China.
“The Type 075 and Type 071 are perfect for launching amphibious operations on small, remote islands, similar to those in the South China Sea. Their complement of helicopters can provide air and transport cover as troops land on beaches and invade enemy positions”writes Christian Le Miere.
With these maneuvers, Beijing could have pursued two objectives, according to the analyst. On the one hand, they rehearsed and trained their contingent and war material, thus ensuring their adequate training for a conflict. On the other hand, these naval activities are “a very effective way to carry out maritime diplomacy.” In other words, Beijing may have sought to show allies and rivals its “intentions, capabilities and resolve.” And the messages sent would be clear to their neighbors, says Le Miere.
An approach is not an obstacle to show muscles
The recent show of force comes “ironically” after a relative diplomatic rapprochement between China and other key countries in the Asian region.
Some time ago, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Tokyo and Seoul in an attempt to build on the positive momentum caused by the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Association trade agreement. Beijing is also involved in negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a code of conduct to regulate behavior in the South China Sea.
“In this way, China appears to be offering the carrot in the form of negotiations while also showing the stick of possible violence by holding its exercises. But make no mistake. With the new Type 075, China is building a Navy equipped to fight and win amphibious wars throughout the region”warns the author.
For small and medium-sized countries in the region, these deep-sea vessels represent a “clear reminder of the growing asymmetry of power” they face in their negotiations with Beijing over their territorial disputes, the analyst concludes.