This week, China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) with a large military parade to display to the world how far the PLAN has come and where it intends to go.
The scope of China’s military advancements in recent decades was summarized well in the Pentagon’s new 2009 Report to Congress:
On March 4, 2008, Beijing announced a 17.6 percent increase in its military budget to approximately $60 billion. China’s military budget doubled between 1989 and 1994, and almost doubled again between 1994 and 1999. The 2005 military budget was almost ten times the 1989 military budget. If these trends continue, China’s military budget for 2009 will nearly double the 2005 figure.
A large portion of China’s growing military investments has been directed towards its Navy. While in total capability the PLAN still pales in comparison to the U.S. Navy, the upwards trends in China’s growing fleet—in both quality and quantity—over the past two decades intersects with receding fleet size of the U.S. Navy.
While China insists its military growth is consistent with its great power status and defensive in nature, its build-up of offensive capabilities across the Taiwan strait and its investment in disruptive military technologies like direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons, nuclear submarines, anti-ship missiles, and robust cyber warfare capabilities send a different message.
For the U.S. to continue to protect its interest throughout the blue waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans—maintaining influence, protecting trade routes, and reassuring allies—the nation will require a Navy capable of generating sustained access above, on, and below the seas.