Friday, October 2, 2009

China sets its sights on US Navy, admiral warns


AS CHINA celebrated 60 years of communist rule with a parade of military hardware, a senior US commander expressed concern that it was shaping to challenge the US militarily. The commander of the Seventh Fleet, Vice-Admiral John Bird, said in Sydney yesterday that China's naval capability "has grown much faster than any of our predictions''. Of China's new capabilities, "many are intended to counter a navy such as the US Navy," with weapons systems "targeted to our carriers and larger ships." He suggested that China aimed ultimately to displace the US in the Pacific: "I think the Chinese would like to see less of the Seventh Fleet in this part of the world.

"I think their track record is pretty clear - the Chinese will continue to expand their maritime area of operations further in the future," he told reporters aboard his command vessel, the USS Blue Ridge. And with at least four US Navy vessels steaming to provide help after this week's earthquakes, Admiral Bird said that "it would be good to see the Chinese deploying some of their strength in disaster relief". He pointed out that China had not offered any such help after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The purpose of the Chinese build-up was clouded: "Their intentions are unclear. I would like to see more transparency." Admiral Bird commands two aircraft carriers, a flotilla of about 50 other vessels, 200 aircraft and 40,000 personnel. He said the incident in March where Chinese vessels had jostled a US ship in the South China Sea had been followed by other, lesser incidents but had not been repeated with the same intensity.

"I would like to believe China learnt from that but, to be truthful, at any time they could do that again … They have made it clear they consider the South China Sea to be more or less theirs." Admiral Bird said China's progress in developing an anti-ship ballistic missile could force the US to adapt: "Challenged with that threat you might adjust your approach, but that's a far cry from making carriers obsolete." And China's capability, without yet any operating aircraft carriers, remained "a far cry" from America's 11 nuclear-powered carriers, he said.


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