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China building modern, regionally powerful navy: US report

A ship carrying Chinese military personnel departs a port on July 11 in Zhanjiang, southern China's Guangdong province. Photo: AP

China is building a modern and regionally powerful navy with a limited but growing capability for conducting operations beyond the country's shores, a recent congressional report said.

Chinese navy ships in recent years have begun to conduct operations away from China's home waters, including the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the waters surrounding Europe, including the Mediterranean Sea and the Baltic Sea.

Consistent with these goals, observers believe that China wants its military to be capable of acting as a force that can deter US intervention in a conflict in China's near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening US forces, Congressional Research Service said in the report.

The CRS is an independent and bipartisan wing of the US Congress, whose experts prepares reports and research materials for US lawmakers on issues of their interest for them to take informed decision.

Prepared by experts, these are not considered as an official policy of the US Congress.

In its report, the CRS said that additional missions for China's navy include conducting maritime security (including anti-piracy) operations, evacuating Chinese nationals from foreign countries when necessary, and conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.

"The issue for Congress is how the US Navy should respond to China's military modernization efforts, particularly its naval modernization effort. Decisions that Congress reaches on this issue could affect US Navy capabilities and funding requirements and the US defense industrial base," it said.

Although many of China's long-distance naval deployments have been for making diplomatic port calls, some of them have been for other purposes, including conducting training exercises and carrying out antipiracy operations in waters off Somalia, it said, adding that China is now looking at military bases overseas.

Its first such military base has been established in Djibouti, an African nation.

The Chinese push into Africa is seen as part of a massive drive by Beijing to exert its influence in areas that it sees either as within its sphere of influence or capable of contributing to its rise.

China has expanded its military ties across Africa in recent years. According to a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations, cooperation with Africa on peace and security is now an "explicit part of Beijing's foreign policy."

"In March 2017, it was reported that China might deploy a contingent of Chinese marines to the commercial port at Gwadar, Pakistan, to help maintain security at that port," CRS said.

On Monday at a briefing in Singapore, US Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson criticized China for acting to protect its own interests at the cost of others, while trust among Southeast Asian nations is improving, especially to counter threats from piracy and terrorism.

Gabrielson, commander of the Logistics Group Western Pacific, said that nations should not seek to undermine the "existing system" through unilateral actions, without naming a particular country. He later said that China, which has turned reclaimed reefs in the disputed South China Sea into military outposts, was proceeding with a "long-term plan" for the region.

"It's important for everyone who has an interest in the region to do their part to understand that if the world does not come together to protect its own interests then China will do everything it can to protect what it sees as its interests at the cost of anyone else," Gabrielson said.

"China is not worried about what anyone else values," he said. "It is only worried about what China values, and from the United States perspective, that is a problem."

"That is where the mutual respect really breaks down, and we're very concerned about that," Gabrielson added.

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