China is becoming an Atlantic sea power, says US military analyst

  • Report says shift in naval operations reflects growing presence and investment in southern Africa
  • Moves could also be part of Beijing’s plans for blue-water force to rival US Navy

South China Morning Post
Date: 20 Dec, 2019
By: Kristin Huang

The PLAN’s amphibious transport ship Jinggangshan leaves Guangdong for Doraleh in Djibouti. Photo: Xinhua

China is becoming an Atlantic naval power, venturing into the ocean’s southern waters as it steps up investment in the region and counters perceived threats from the United States, according to a report in a security journal.

The assessment, written by Ryan Martinson, an assistant professor at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, said that in the last five years China’s presence outside of Asia had expanded from anti-piracy operations and port visits to training and setting up a military port at Doraleh in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, close to the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Persian Gulf.

“Once limited to port visits and largely symbolic joint exercises, PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] activities in the South Atlantic now include independent operations and training,” Martinson said in the report, published on Monday in the journal of the Royal United Services Institute, a British military think tank.

“It has also shown early efforts to develop mastery of the ocean battlespace environment in key areas of the South Atlantic.”

It said the Chinese naval presence had become more sophisticated, with longer missions. In one case, a PLAN task force spent 24 days in the Atlantic before putting in at Cape Town, South Africa, in August 2017. In another, a PLAN task force spent 13 days sailing from Douala port in Cameroon to Cape Town, longer than a typical voyage.

In these instances, Chinese forces were training and doing drills, including staging missile attack simulations, the report said. Research vessels were also part of the operations.

“Much of the data Chinese scientists collect is dual-use and [was] likely [to be] shared with counterparts in the military,” the report said.

The report suggested that the naval activity increased as part of the drive to protect China’s overseas interests.

According to 2017 commerce ministry statistics quoted in the report, of the five African countries with the greatest direct investment from China, four – South Africa, Congo, Nigeria and Angola – faced the South Atlantic.

But the report also said the increased PLAN presence in the South Atlantic could reflect a shift in China’s strategy for handling the great power competition in East Asia.

“Chinese deployment of naval power beyond maritime East Asia likely reflects Beijing’s incorporation of certain elements of an ‘exterior’ strategy into its overall approach for coping with the US threat,” it said.

“By developing robust naval capabilities abroad, the logic goes, China might compel the US to adjust its force posture, shifting air and sea assets away from the western Pacific to account for Chinese threats elsewhere.”

Expansion in the South Atlantic came as China made its larger presence in the Pacific and Indian oceans felt.    [FULL  STORY]