China’s military plans to expand global reach to protect economic interests

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, in a photo taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft this month. (U.S.Navy/via Reuters)

On Tuesday, China announced plans to extend its global military reach to protect its economic interests while defending its territorial claims at sea against “provocative actions” by neighbors and “meddling” by the United States.

The Washington Post reported a policy document issued by the country’s State Council outlined China’s military strategy and underlined the dramatic growth of the country’s defense ambitions due to its rapid economic rise.

Patrick Cronin, the director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, called the document “a blueprint for achieving slow-motion regional hegemony.”

“It asserts a confidence backed by growing capability on land and increasingly at sea,” Cronin said.  “While it calls for balancing China’s territorial “rights” with “stability,” there should be little doubt on the part of its neighbors that China is building a maritime force to assert the former.”

China argued in the document that its military is dedicated to “international security cooperation.”  However, it also stated that its navy will expand its focus from “offshore waters defense” to a greater emphasis on “open seas protection,” in an effort to establish itself as a maritime power.  The Chinese air force will shift efforts from “territorial air defense to both defense and offense.”

Senior Col. Wang Jin said at a news conference on Tuesday, “China has made it a strategic goal to become a maritime power.  Therefore, we need to build a strong navy.”

According to The Washington Post, China’s officially disclosed defense budget was expanded about 10 percent this year, bringing it to $141 billion.  This marked two decades of nearly unbroken double-digit growth.  China has invested a large portion of the budget to warships and submarines, as well as a second aircraft carrier.

Wang added that the development of long-range precision weapons equate to the sea battlefield widening.  “Offshore-waters defense alone can no longer provide effective defense of the country’s maritime interests,” he said.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Washington is aware of the document and will continue to monitor China’s military developments closely.  “We also continue to urge China to exhibit greater transparency with respect to its capabilities and to its intentions,” he said.

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