July 11, 2021

CPC Has Converted a Continental Nation Into a Maritime Power

B Arjun

LAST month China was in news for two reasons. The first was for the spectacular celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The second big news related to the Chinese navy.

Even the die-hard critics of CPC acknowledge its accomplishments in taking the world’s most populous country out of absolute poverty. There is hardly anyone who can deny the role of the party in making China great and giving its people confidence and hope.

Addressing his people on the occasion, President Xi Jinping said, “For 100 years, the Chinese Communist Party has led the Chinese people in every struggle, every sacrifice, every innovation.”  He further reassured, “The Chinese people have never bullied, oppressed or enslaved the peoples of other countries, not in the past, not now and not in the future.” He added, “At the same time, the Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us.” Xi’s stern speech did rattle many in the western media who are not used to hearing non-white leaders warn them.

The 100-year history of CPC is a saga of struggle, and its ability to adapt to the changing situation. In the 1970s when America decided to change the dynamics of the global economy by dismantling the postwar Bretton Woods system to promote dollar hegemony, CPC’s leadership sensed the change. It adapted its policies without compromising the basic character of the party. The net result is that the party has brought its country on the verge of being a global power in a little over 70 years. America is palpably worried because the Chinese model is becoming more attractive to countries across the world, making it difficult to sell neoliberalism under the garb of democracy.


The CPC has built the State capacities and capabilities with an intent to give a better standard of living to a majority of its people and to ensure their security. One area where China is advancing at an unprecedented pace is the development of its navy. It has developed a huge capacity to build warships and commercial ships.   

Former president Hu Jintao called for China to become a “maritime power” at the 18th Party Congress in 2012.  President Xi Jinping reiterated this position in April 2018 when he stated that “the task of building a powerful navy has never been as urgent as it is today.” China has in fact built a powerful modern navy capable of carrying out “missions on the far seas.” According to recent reports, Jiangnan Shipyard, the ten-year-old Chinese shipyard located near Shanghai, is all set to produce China’s second indigenously built aircraft carrier. The recent satellite imagery has revealed the 320-metres long flattop is almost complete.

The massive strides made by a continental power into the realm of sea power have left the Anglo-Americans flabbergasted. For too long the West had considered sea power, that had enabled the colonisation of the world, to be their sole preserve. By building a world-class navy, in a short time span, China has punctured Western vanity. 

Building an aircraft carrier requires industrial expertise of a high level. China acquired those capabilities the hard way through extensive research on an old carrier bought from Australia for scrap in 1985. The investments in R&D paid off when the Chinese floated Liaoning, their refurbished carrier purchased in a semi-built state from Russia. The first fully home-built carrier, named Shandong was commissioned by the People’s Liberation Army - Navy (PLAN) in 2019. Shandong has the capacity to fly 24 aircraft from its deck. The new carrier which is a more advanced version will carry many more aircraft. The latest Chinese aircraft carrier will use the advanced “catapult assisted takeoff but arrested recovery” (CATOBAR) system. Like the US navy, the Chinese carrier too will graduate to employing an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) instead of the steam-driven system to operate its CATOBAR. 

India had requested the US to supply it with the EMALS system for its third aircraft carrier, Vishal. The US approved it but now the building of Vishal has been put on hold as joint planning staff wants to spend the same money to augment the Indian navy’s submarine fleet.  Currently, India operates two aircraft carriers and there is a raging debate among defense analysts as to what kind of strategy is best for India. Should the Indian Navy spend its meagre resources on building an aircraft carrier that costs $6 to $8 billion or spend a little less money on buying submarines and drones that can deter the adversary?

Much to the chagrin of admirers of American sea power that uses 800 odd bases across the globe, the Chinese navy has overtaken the US navy in terms of the number of ships. The former has 360 ships while the latter, the reigning sea power, has only 297 ships in its inventory. According to experts, China is likely to operate a 425-ship navy by 2030. America currently commands the oceans but it is fast losing its primacy. 

The pace of Chinese warships construction is soon likely to place them ahead of the US navy in terms of tonnage as well as firepower. It is estimated the next Chinese aircraft carrier is likely to be nuclear-powered. According to the Economist, China may have as many as five (carriers) by 2030 and eventually go on to have a carrier force of somewhere between six and ten.

A competing naval power with more firepower will certainly leave the US navy struggling because it is not used to being challenged at sea. The Chinese naval growth is so worrying that besides America, Britain, France, and even Germany is entering the Indo-Pacific region with their warships, making it a hub of global naval focus.

Navy and credit were the twin tools that Anglo-American empires have used to weaponise the interdependence in the world. China is now a true blue maritime power. It is a global leader in commercial shipbuilding, and has the maximum number of modern ports in the world. It has a large number of warships to protect the oceans-bound trade, and also the final muscle to underwrite sea trade.

Unlike the West that indulges in wars, regime change, and clandestine operations to sustain its primacy, CPC has achieved success without enslaving or colonising other nations.