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PLA-Navy’s Blue-Water Aspirations Spring Forward

Senior Colonel Wu Qian, Director General of the Information Office of China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) and Spokesperson for the MND, shows a PLA-Navy commemorative envelop of the aircraft carrier, Shandong, at the end of the monthly press conference on December 26, 2019. Photo credit: MND/Wu Xingjian.

CHINA HAS GIVEN two displays of its emerging ‘blue-water‘ naval power in recent days.

Most recently it has conducted joint exercises with the Russian and Iranian navies in the Gulf of Oman, with the PLA-Navy’s most modern ‘carrier killer’, the guided-missile destroyer Xining, involved. Earlier, the PLA-N’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier of its own, the Shandong, sailed through the Taiwan Strait with the rest of its carrier group, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.

Neither exercise in wings-spreading will have gone unnoticed in Washington, which will see the beating of anti-US signalling in both. The former will be taken as an expression of unity between the United States’ great power rivals, Russia and China, and one of its regional power enemies, Iran, as well as of intent on Beijing’s part to protect the sea lanes on which its energy imports depend.  The later will be seen, as it was by the Taiwanese government, as unwarranted interference in the island’s forthcoming elections.

There was no ambiguity in the Chinese defence ministry’s press briefing on December 26th, however, in response to questions about US officials accusing China of increasing militarisation. In a sweeping answer that took in the US military budget, the proposed US ‘space force’ and US sanctions on China in connection with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, Director General of the ministry’s Information Office, lambasted what he called Washington’s ‘Cold War mindset and [its] hegemonic logic’, telling one questioner:

You also mentioned the so-called “Freedom of Navigation Operations”. I don’t think it’s a proper expression. Judging from what the US is doing in the South China Sea, it should be called “hegemony of navigation operations”. Such actions severely violate the sovereignty and security interests of littoral states, undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea, and endanger the safety of front-line service members. They are highly irresponsible and extremely dangerous.

But to end the year on a more unifying note, Wu concluded the press conference by saying, ‘Although we are still in the cold winter, the spring is not far away’ and offering a gift to the assembled hacks, PLA-Navy commemorative envelopes of the Shandong (seen in the photo above), a reminder, perhaps, for whom spring beckons most.

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