Near the coastal city that served as a major port, they gathered in the pre-dawn twilight, forming a single line in preparation for the day’s welcoming ceremony. Emblematic of their nation’s journey from a force in being to a major player on the world stage – economically, industrially and militarily; the grayish white fleet assembling today resembled little of its forebears of a handful of decades past. No longer just a regional power, this was the bid to become a major player on the world’s stage – the signal of arrival.

The Great White Fleet getting completing it’s epic journey around the world? Yes — and the People’s Liberation Army Navy celebrating its 60th Anniversary…

So what is the sense on the ground, if you will, as to the review’s true purpose? From the Deputy Commander of the PLAN via Xinhua (source), the expectations are more ‘understadning’:

“Suspicions about China being a ‘threat’ to world security are mostly because of misunderstandings and lack of understandings about China,” Ding said. “The suspicions would disappear if foreign counterparts could visit the Chinese navy and know about the true situations.”

CNO’s focused on current ops and navy-to-navy cooperation:

“I believe that opportunities like this for our navies to come together to talk about things that navies talk about, to be able to advance our military-to-military relationship and the context of a broader and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship is very important. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a pleasure to be back in China,” Roughead said. “I think that our day-to-day operations in the vicinity of Somalia are a tremendous confidence building measure, and I would say they go beyond a confidence building measure. Today our two forces are operating there,” Roughead said. “I’m a great proponent of cooperative endeavors in humanitarian assistance and how we might be able to work together in some combined and even multilateral humanitarian assistance operations such as the ones that my Navy leads.”

Others, like this from current Political Science professor at University of Miami and former Asia advisor to the CNO, June Tuefel Dryer, in an interview with ABC’s Radio Australia, note the regional concerns beyond merely protecting trade routes:

“JOANNA McCARTHY: Well, there is of course a lot of speculation on the question but what are the intentions behind China’s naval build-up, beyond protecting its trade routes, in your view?

JUNE TUEFEL DRYER: I do think that they want to create a situation where they are not challenged by any other power because the other power would realise it’s simply too dangerous to do so and that would include Vietnam, it would include Japan, it would include Taiwan and the United States. They have been testing, apparently it’s not yet operational, a very menacing weapon with the capability to destroy US aircraft carriers, for example.

JOANNA McCARTHY: And for all of Beijing’s intentions, are they still a long way off building a naval force that’s comparable to that of the United States?

JUNE TUEFEL DRYER: Yes, indeed. It’s a significant way off but on the other hand we shouldn’t downplay the significance of their having come as far as they have very quickly.”(emphasis added)

Time notes the, well, propitious timing with the release of the Obama Administration’s new budget direction and areas of emphasis with attendant opportunities for de-escalating the risk of conflict:

“The anniversary celebrations come at a pivotal moment for the United States and China. On April 6 Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced his intention — and a budget to back it up — to build future defense spending around the “wars we are in,” rather than those that military planners can imagine. The decision is hugely consequential. Even as the U.S. was engaged in two fronts in the so called War on Terror over the last eight years, it simultaneously spent defense dollars on weapons systems grounded in the assumption that someday the U.S. might well find itself in conflict with a big, technologically sophisticated nation with global ambitions, one with a well-funded, well-equipped army, navy and air force. America needed, in other words, to be ready to go to war with China”

and perhaps, wrapping back to the PLAN’s Deputy Commander’s somments above, observes:

For years, the Pentagon has been frustrated by China’s secrecy over its military budgeting and its intentions. The U.S. brass simply doesn’t believe Beijing when it says its defense spending in 2008 was only $60 billion. It’s double or three times that, Pentagon planners believe. Even Barnett concedes that China “goes out of its way to hide what it procures and then slyly trots out its big ticket items every so often so our satellites can get a few shots of them. That, in the past, has fueled the suspicion that has driven the Pentagon’s budget — which in turn convinces China’s hawks that Washington does indeed see Beijing as an enemy. The Gates budget can change that dynamic — if China now responds, and levels a bit more with the outside world about its military. Big anniversaries come and go, but moments like this arise only rarely. Is the Chinese leadership smart enough to seize it?”

Perhaps, but one must always keep the long game in view and it doesn’t hurt to keep your powder dry

MSNBC video on PLAN 60th Anniversary

Posted by SteelJaw in Foreign Policy, Navy
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  • Same Navy that once journeyed far around Africa, to find out they were the most advanced peoples they knew, so they destroyed their fleet. I’m sure they have incorporated lessons learned into their current plans. A long memory is something our 4 year memory doesn’t always compete with well.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Suspicions about China being a ‘threat’ to world security are mostly because of misunderstandings and lack of understandings about China,” Ding said. “The suspicions would disappear if foreign counterparts could visit the Chinese navy and know about the true situations.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t the Kaiser say something eerily similar in tone at the 1911 Spithead review?

  • Bill

    The Chnese read,learn and respect their history. Great seamen who journeyed the known world and beyond. Quite easy to understand their desire to once again become respected as a world player in naval affairs. Becoming feared is just some icing on the cake.

  • RickWilmes

    I wonder how much China’s naval build up is being influenced by the ideas of Mahan?

  • RickWilmes

    According to James Holmes, Mahan Is Alive and Well in Today’s China .

    “The maritime strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan continues to shape world politics long after his death–but not the way he would have expected. Conveyed in works such as “The Influence of Sea Power upon History” and “The Problem of Asia,” the theories of Mahan, a late-19th-century proponent of U.S. expansion in Asia, could be turned against the United States by rising Asian powers such as China.

    It behooves Washington to initiate discussions of maritime strategy with Beijing now–before Mahanian thinking becomes too ingrained in Chinese naval culture.

    I speak from experience. This April I delivered a paper in Beijing, at a Ford Foundation-sponsored conference on “sea-lane security.” I lost count of how many times the Chinese panelists referred to Mahan. And they invariably quoted the most bellicose-sounding of Mahan’s precepts, which envisions titanic battles at sea. “

  • RickWilmes

    It looks like US Naval War College Strategy and Policy Department scholars James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihare have written a book about Mahan’s influence on China’s naval strategy.

    China’s Naval Strategy in the 21st Century: The Turn to Mahan.

    “Traditionally a continental power, China has recently become much more attentive to its maritime interests. Holmes and Yoshihara ascribe this change to several factors, one of
    which is the current relatively benign state of China’s land borders. Major maritime factors include China’s growing reliance on trade for its vital energy supplies, and the importance of Taiwan as a means of permitting or denying China’s access to the Pacific Ocean. According to the authors, however, the turn to the sea also came about through the ability of Chinese Navy leader Liu Huaqing to cast off Maoist Army-dominated defence hilosophies in the 1980s and bring credibility to the concept of offshore defence.

    Liu Huaqing was primarily responsible for the modernisation of the Chinese Navy and for making concepts of sea power acceptable in China. Holmes and Yoshihara explore at length Mahan’s influence in this process, specifically referring to his inspiration of the development of the US, German and Japanese navies at the beginning of the 20th century. The authors
    argue that each of these navies used Mahan’s ideas selectively, with theory supporting preconceived arguments for more ships. The authors suggest that Liu and others have done the same in China: so, Mahan is an important influence, but by no means the only one.”

  • RickWilmes

    Here is what the Economist has to say about China’s rise in “sea power.”

    Distant Horizons

    “The only missing ingredient of naval might was an aircraft-carrier. Officials hint it will not be long before China has some of these too.”


    “Some of the new weaponry on display in Qingdao suggested that projecting power is becoming a bigger priority for China. Among the vessels inspected by President Hu Jintao from on board a Chinese-made destroyer were two nuclear-powered submarines. China’s official press identified them as a Xia-class ballistic-missile submarine and a Han-class attack submarine. These are not China’s very latest models, but showing them at all was rare.

    China is coy about its submarines. Foreign military officials attending the regatta toured a Song-class diesel-electric submarine. The Song has been in use since the 1990s, but it was the first time that some of these officials, despite repeated requests, had been allowed inside one. China has said nothing about its new Jin-class submarines armed with long-range nuclear missiles. The Pentagon reported that the first of these had been deployed. “

  • Not just power projection – sea control from the shore as well…