The Chief of Staff of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force recently met with Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guianglie in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, China to review China's East Fleet.
Many analysts agree that Naval control over the waters of East Asia will again become a contest (as it was during WWII) as China's Navy, known as the PLAN, continues its rapid development.
Japan, especially is worried, as is the United States.
But what I find more interesting is Brazil's role in China's naval development.
Below, my research assistant Kelsey Price, has prepared a backgrounder on Sino-Brazilian naval relations, including Brazil's offer to train the Chinese on the use of aircraft carriers - something the PLAN has yet to deploy.
As China attempts to solidify its place as an emerging world power, its leaders have placed more emphasis on building a stronger navy. At the forefront of this naval initiative is the construction of, and training for, China’s first aircraft carrier. Russia has sold China its former carrier Varyag (renamed the Shi Lang), and China has been slowly updating the craft since its docking at a Chinese shipyard in 2002. Analysts conclude that China’s navy, or PLAN, may use the ship for training and as a base for the construction of two of its own carriers.
Brazil is looking for international significance as well, so when PLAN turned to Brazil’s aircraft carrier-trained crew to train China’s navy, the Latin American power agreed to invite Chinese naval personnel aboard the Sao Paolo, Brazil’s only aircraft carrier. While the two BRIC nations—part of a group with Russia and India—both benefit from the military favor, China had very few choices. Brazil is one of only four nations to maintain an aircraft carrier capable of launching and recovering conventional aircraft, and the only one willing or able to train PLAN personnel. The United States has little interest in training the navy of a country it sees as a potential threat; EU law prohibits France from helping; and China’s relationship with Russia is hampered by an intellectual property dispute over Chinese fighter aircraft.
China clearly benefits from the naval training, but Brazil’s reward for helping China is less material than political. Brazil strengthens its reputation as a global force, especially when it assists a country as powerful as China. It also establishes stronger relations between the two countries, which formerly concentrated on economic ties and shared inclusion in the emerging BRIC nations.
Brazil and China’s other BRIC partners—India specifically—have expressed concern over PLAN’s technological advancement. India has declared China to be its “biggest threat.” China’s Major General Qian Lihua, director of the ministry’s Foreign Affairs office, assured, “Even if one day we have an aircraft carrier, unlike another country, we will not use it to pursue global deployment or global reach.” China’s President Hu Jintao also claimed that he did not seek regional hegemony or an arms race; rather, China would use its navy to pursue international cooperation in peacekeeping and anti-piracy enforcement.
The United States suspects other motives. A US Congressional Report for the People in May suggested that China may plan to use its improved navy to create conflict with Taiwan, and perhaps to prevent US intervention in the dispute. China may also use its threatening aircraft carrier to assert itself in the region, especially regarding its claims in territorial and freedom of navigation disputes. Its strengthened place as a world power may also convince other countries to align its policies with China, and displace US influence in the region. These concerns have prompted the US navy to pursue increased monitoring of China’s actions and to send more personnel to the Pacific.
Bates Gill, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, considers the very display of China’s navy a non-verbal threat to other countries. PLAN celebrated its 60th anniversary by including 52 navy vessels and aircraft in maneuvers off the eastern port of Qingdao in April. "Showing what you have can always also act as a deterrent - that's how it's seen in the US," said Mr Gill. "When the US navy takes an aircraft carrier to Hong Kong, it also tells the Chinese, have a look, you don't want to confront this."
Brazil and China’s rise in international influence—and displacement of US influence—is expedited by a visibly strong navy, and the partnership forming between the two nations suggests the emergence of a strong BRIC allegiance without the sway of the United States.
“Beijing’s aircraft carrier will convert Asian oceans into Chinese lakes.” 28 May, 2009. Rupee News delivered by Newstex.
Farley, Robert. “The New China-Brazil axis.” 27 May 2009. The Progressive Realist.
“Brazil/China consolidate energy, trade and finance partnership.” 19 May, 2009. South Atlantic news agency MercoPress.
Ansari, Moin. “BRIC-battered: The growing Brazil china axis and fraying Indo-Russia deals.” 27 May, 2009. Rupee News.
“China has aircraft carrier hopes.” 17 November 2008. BBC.
Hille, Katherin. “China’s show of sea power challenges US.” 24 April 2009. The Financial Times.
“China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities -- Background and Issues for Congress.” 29 May 2009. Open CRS, Congressional Report for the People.
See “China’s show of sea power challenges US,” Financial Times.
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