Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 07:06 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 07:06 | SYDNEY

China naval parade


Sam Roggeveen


24 April 2009 11:49

China's state media is full of proud stories today about yesterday's international fleet review to mark the 60th anniversary of China's navy. There were no huge surprises in the parade itself, though it did mark the first official public viewing of China's nuclear-powered submarine fleet, and demonstrated some impressive technological leaps.

All the usual caveats still apply. China's navy is large in number but relatively modest in capabilities by regional standards, with little capacity to operate beyond its first island chain. And rarely acknowledged is that the surge in destroyer-sized surface ship construction seen during the earlier part of this decade has stopped. But production of frigates continues, and of course the debate about whether China will acquire an aircraft carrier is more or less over. It will happen.

This parade perhaps comes at a propitious time for Australia. If everything we've read about the soon-to-be-released Defence White is true, the Australian Government is going to have a difficult sales job to do in Beijing. It is hard to see the apparent emphasis on maritime capability in the White Paper — including a doubling of our submarine fleet — as anything but a move to hedge against the more uncertain security environment created by the growth of naval powers like China and India.

No doubt Chinese officials will be asking some pointed questions. So maybe our leaders and officials can turn to President Hu's words for guidance on talking points. President Hu assured other nations that 'the PLA (People's Liberation Army) navy will safeguard world peace and development and will not be a threat to other nations' and said 'China will never launch a military race and won't forge a military threat to any country'.

No doubt sincerely meant, and Australia's protestations of defensive intent will be equally earnest. But no country can responsibly take such statements at face value. And that's where the trouble starts.