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Chinese navy sees role further afield
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The Chinese navy is undergoing a transformation to protect the country and its maritime rights, experts said ahead of the 60th founding anniversary of the navy on Thursday.

The navy has been following the offshore defense strategy in the 1980s. A long coastline and developing sea-borne trade mean China needs to have a strong blue-water presence, said Zhuang Congyong, a researcher with the Naval Command Academy (NCA) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"Nowadays, threats to China's maritime safety and development include maritime terrorism, pirates, international crime and other unconventional challenges. It is the sacred responsibility of our armed forces to protect our sea territory and to maintain our maritime rights and interests."

The White Paper on China's National Defense in 2008 issued early this year said the navy is "developing capabilities of conducting cooperation in distant waters and countering non-traditional security threats, so as to push forward the overall transformation of the service."

To Liu Song, former commissar on the Yangtze frigate, one of the first warships of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the escort mission of the Chinese navy across the Indian Ocean was beyond his imagination half a century ago as the navy was weak when it was founded 60 years ago.

Chinese leader Mao Zedong spent four days on the Yangtze frigate and Luoyang frigate in 1953 on his first tour of the navy." Chairman Mao reminded us that aggression came from the sea during the Opium War (1840-1842). He called for the building of a strong navy to combat the imperialism aggression," Liu said.

Due to the U.S. blockade, the Korean War and conflicts with the Soviet Union, the Chinese navy kept troops close to land from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s under the strategy of inshore defense. Since the 1980s, the Navy has realized a strategic transformation to offshore defensive operations.

The White Paper says the navy comprises the submarine, surface vessel, aviation, marine corps and coastal defense wings.

Wu Shengli, commander of the Navy, said it will accelerate researching and building new-generation weapons to boost the ability to fight in regional sea wars. Aircraft and torpedoes, long-range missiles with high accuracy, submarines with superb invisibility and endurance and electronic weapons and facilities are also on the Navy's agenda.

"The ability to go deep into the ocean to conduct integrated operations is a key criterion for a strong navy. The escort operation to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters reflects and starts the transformation of our military strategy," Zhuang said. "The Chinese navy will conduct more long-distance escort missions in the future."

While stressing the navy would always be a peaceful force committed to China's security, experts said China should pay more attention to protecting its maritime security in the Strait of Malacca.

About 85 percent of China's imported crude oil and half of China's commercial fleet passed through the strait, said Professor Zhang Xiaolin with NCA.

"The Chinese navy should also protect increasing shipping in the strait as piracy threats in Malacca are more serious than those in Somali waters," he said.

But experts said the Somalia operation showed the Chinese navy was still a long way from being strong enough to protect China's expanding maritime rights and interests.

"We have problems in helicopter maintenance, logistic supplies and telecommunications on the open sea," said Zhang Shiping, a researcher with the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences.

He suggested more young officers and naval students be trained through long-distance missions and exchanges with foreign counterparts.

"We should be far-sighted in our naval development," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency April 23, 2009)

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