• By The Financial District


Chinese analysts are egging President Xi Jinping to construct naval and military bases overseas on top of the seven such bases in the islands they had built on seven reefs and submerged features in the contested Spratlys Islands in the South China Sea.

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Reporting for the Jack Ma-owned South China Morning Post (SCMP), Kristin Huang said the analysts insist that expanding the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleet “was aimed at protecting China’s overseas interests, especially while Beijing was starting infrastructure projects abroad, but it also created a challenge. Some said China had too few overseas bases to support its ambitions.”

The United States maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, but China so far has only one base in Djibouti. Two months before China’s Djibouti base began service in the Horn of Africa in August 2017, influential Chinese military adviser Jin Yinan urged Beijing to build more overseas bases to protect China’s distant maritime interests.

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“We said in the past that we would never build an overseas base but now we build one. Why?” Jin said. “Will China copy the US to seek hegemony in the world? No. We have to protect the Chinese maritime interest far away.” Zhou Bo, a retired senior colonel and now a senior fellow in Tsinghua University’s Centre for International Security and Strategy said China’s national needs justified its expanding naval fleet.

“China is the only major country in the world that hasn’t achieved a full reunification and is confronted with tricky maritime issues in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea, so the Chinese naval power has to be increased to protect China’s sovereignty and national integrity,” Zhou said.

While the US Navy is far larger than the PLA Navy by tonnage, China’s frantic shipbuilding schedule quickly narrowed that advantage.

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The US Office of Naval Intelligence predicts China’s overall naval “battle force” will be around 425 ships and submarines by 2030.

Timothy Heath, a senior security analyst from the US think tank Rand, said China – having the world’s largest fleet at hand – needed greater overseas military access to protect its extensive interests.

“Lacking overseas bases is a problem for China because China is so dependent on markets, energy and natural resources in distant locations, such as the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America … [and Belt and Road Initiative] projects are very vulnerable to damage and disruption, which could have a tremendous impact on the economy of China and the world,” Heath said.


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