CAM RANH BASE, VIETNAM — Despite continuing protests and a warning from the United States and even the European Union that it will not tolerate incursive action from Beijing in the South China Sea (SCS) region, China has stepped up its claim of a huge swath in the area as it commissions its first type 075 amphibious assault ship which is expected to be deployed in the disputed territories.
According to military observers, the said warship, named the Hainan, may also be deployed in missions around Taiwan which in recent times have been under threat of an imminent Chinese invasion as shown by repeated entry of reconnaissance planes and coast guard vessels in both its sea and air spaces.
State media report the amphibious assault ship was commissioned by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) last Friday, 24 April, at a ceremony attended by Chinese president Xi Jinping at a naval base in Sanya in the Hainan province, along with a Dalian Type 055 destroyer and the nuclear submarine Long March-18 that could launch the JL-1 and JL-2 gig wave ballistic missiles.
Based on satellite images, US military intelligence have noted that the Type 075 is capable of carrying an estimated 30 helicopters and hundreds of troops which can be used for defensive maneuvers but much more for offensive attack. It is China’s largest amphibious assault ship with an estimated displacement of about 40,000 tonnes.
Although the Z-8J and Z-20J armored helicopters that it will carry are not yet ready for use, Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator and former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) instructor, said the ship can carry various types of helicopters, including airborne early warning helicopters.
“The ship is deployed to the South Sea Fleet under the Southern Theatre Command. It does not mean it will only be responsible for the South China Sea. It will also be used for missions around Taiwan and other cross-theatre command tasks. But presumably it will mainly be for the South China Sea,” Song says.
Observers added that the warship could play a more important strategic role in the South China Sea, where China has a number of competing territorial claims with Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the disputed waters and has responded by sending warships and planes to the region to conduct what it describes as freedom of navigation operations. Even the EU has pronounced its apprehension, saying that recent developments triggered by China’s incursions are igniting tension that endangers peace and stability in the region.
In response to the US military’s recent operations, Beijing has said that these violate China’s territorial sovereignty and thus increases the risk of conflict.
Other claimants in the SCS have likewise criticized Beijing’s ‘expansionist’ activities and have complained about Chinese coastguard vessels and fishing boats entering their territories.
Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, says the deployment of the PLAN’s most advanced amphibious assault ship to the Southern Theatre Command is designed to send a message to China’s neighbors.
“The ship can perform offensive functions—such as capture of terrestrial features in the disputed Spratlys, as well as, a Taiwan invasion scenario or it can also be used for providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in times of peace,” Koh says.
Moreover, the international geopolitical analyst says China’s neighbors may feel the need to respond to the “widening asymmetry” in the military balance of power by upgrading their own armed forces and seeking support from external powers.
“As far as the region is concerned, given uncertainty over China’s strategic intentions and its proclivity to use military coercion, this vessel will more generally be seen with wariness by regional countries especially those which have territorial and sovereignty disputes with China,” he says. (TC with reports from the internet/JuanManila)
Featured image: The third Type 075 LHD for PLAN launched in January at the Hudong Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai. /Photo credit: Naval News