China’s Expanding Naval Presence Troubles Neighbors

Publication: China Brief Volume: 8 Issue: 3

In an interview with Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, Taiwan’s Vice-Minister for Defense Ko Chen-heng reportedly stated that Chinese warships have stepped up naval activities along the “first island chain” (diyidaolian) with five to six recorded incursions in the past two years (China Times, January 24; Yomiuri Shimbun, January 24). He added that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has expanded its area of operations into the high seas, and its submarines are maneuvering in areas off the eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan. Vice-Minister Ko expects that the PLAN will extend its maritime operation to the Bashi Channel, which is a critical communication bottleneck located between Y’Ami Island of the Philippines and Orchid Island of Taiwan. In response to China’s expansive naval activities, which Taiwan claims demonstrate Beijing’s plan to make the Taiwan Strait an “internal sea of China,” Vice-Minister Ko underscored the need for Taiwan to deploy its self-developed cruise missiles, which indirectly reference the Hsiung-feng missiles, to deter this perceived growing Chinese threat (China Times, January 24; Yomiuri Shimbun, January 24).

Taiwan has been secretly developing a Hsiung Feng [Brave Wind] 2-E cruise missile, which may or may not have a range that extends to Shanghai and Hong Kong. In his interview with Yomirui Shimbun, Vice-Minister Ko acknowledges only that the cruise missiles are “under development,” but insists that they are not intended to strike civil targets in Shanghai or Hong Kong (China Times, January 24; Yomiuri Shimbun, January 24). An expert on military affairs quoted by Yomirui Shimbun said that Taipei has refrained from disclosing the Hsiung Feng deployment “probably due to the pressure from Washington, which does not want to provoke Beijing because it is an offensive-type weapon” (Yomiuri Shimbun, January 25).

This report precedes remarks made by the head of the U.S. armed forces in the Asia-Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, who recently concluded his second visit to China. During a forum in Washington, D.C., Admiral Keating shared his assessment that he considered it “troubling” that China’s “area denial weapons,” which includes submarines, and the “capabilities of some of these weapon systems would tend to exceed our own expectations for protecting those things that … [the Chinese considers] ‘ours’” (AFP, January 29).

Admiral Keating added that “China is developing, fielding and has in place weapons that could be characterized as having, amongst perhaps other purposes, an ability to restrict movement in and around certain areas on the sea, in the air or under the sea” (AFP, January 29).