Xi Jinping Voicing His Willingness To Fight “Bloody Battles”
In a rather bold move last week, the People’s Republic of China has sent a very large fleet of warships through the Taiwan Strait. Though China claims the drill was routine and unremarkable, held every month, it could be interpreted as provocative because of the ever-present tensions and ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
For years, various countries in Southeast Asia have laid claim to various, overlapping parts of the South China Sea, usually for rights to fishing and resource extraction. If a country can claim a part of the sea as their own, they would have the power to enforce ship navigation and other developments like oil rigs in the area.
The West has also taken interest in challenging these claims. The U.S. and Britain, who rely upon resources from these areas, have been known to send warships directly into the Chinese-claimed territory, because they recognize it as international territory, so as to prove at least a de facto freedom of navigation of all ships. This would keep China from monopolizing local resources and fully profiting from them.
In recent times, however, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has undergone significant improvements. The already resource-rich country, home to well over a billion people, has the potential to become a military superpower in due time. With new destroyers, patrol ships and even an aircraft carrier being built, they may soon have enough power to stop these western “freedom of navigation” transits.
This latest demonstration by the Chinese showcases just that. Their only operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, accompanied by some 40 ships and submarines, sailed through the Taiwan Strait. Rather than sailing in a battle formation, they formed two extremely long lines, a propaganda tactic to showcase their discipline, coordination, and size.
While many of the ships appear quite modern and heavily armed, there’s still surprisingly little known about their actual combat capabilities. The carrier Liaoning is the same class as the Russian Kuznetsov, which is known to be plagued with engine failures so frequently it must be accompanied by an oceangoing tug to tow it to safety when it breaks down. The biggest issue facing the PLAN, however, is lack of experience. While the US and UK have been training carrier pilots and ship crews in real combat situations for decades, China doesn’t have that veteran knowledge.
Still, a mass of ships that large that is known to have modern weapons and electronics, will make even the most advanced of navies reconsider their actions. Even if they would lose to their American counterparts, it is potentially threatening enough to make any battle losses not worth it.
Considering how just a week earlier, Chinese president Xi Jinping voiced his willingness to fight “bloody battles” to keep China’s status as a global superpower, this show of force could be a further warning of what may come if nothing is done to defuse the situation. A bloodless solution would require skillful diplomacy and good faith from all sides.
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