|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) celebrated its 70th founding anniversary on April 23, 2019 with a grand fleet review. More than 10 countries, including India, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam joined the naval parade. Two Indian battle ships, biggest indigenously built stealth destroyer INS Kolkata and fleet tanker INS Shakti, participated in PLAN's fleet review. The Indian Navy participation was for the third consecutive time in the PLAN's five-yearly International Fleet Review (IFR). Absence of Pakistan's naval ships was conspicuous, perhaps due to financial constraints or maybe not having anything to match up to INS Kolkata, albeit a delegation led by Pakistan Navy Chief Admiral Mahmood Abbasi attended the event. Besides being an all-weather ally of China, Pakistan is the biggest procurer of Chinese weapon systems. China is currently building four advanced naval frigates for Pakistan. It may be recalled that in February 2016 the Indian Navy had held an International Fleet Review in which navies of 52 countries had participated with over 100 ships, in which the US, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, and South Korean navies had participated amongst others.
For the 70th Anniversary Fleet Review, PLAN deployed 32 vessels sailing in six groups, with 39 warplanes of PLAN flying in 10 echelons as Chinese President Xi Jinping who is also the head of the military besides being the chief of ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) reviewed the grand Fleet Review in poor visibility conditions as the skies remained hazy – perhaps Gods too are unhappy with Chinese expansionist and aggressive designs. Besides its first aircraft carrier Liaoning, which is a refit of a former Soviet Union ship, China displayed its latest nuclear submarines, destroyers and fighter jets – some making the debut for the first time.
Before arriving in China for the PLAN fleet review, the last port of call by INS Kolkata and INS Shakti was Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, where they conducted a bilateral exercises with the Vietnam Navy for enhancing closer defence ties between India and Vietnam. Before the PLAN's fleet review speculation was ripe that China will be showcasing its naval might directed at the US and allies, particularly Taiwan which it wants to annex and assimilate in mainland China.
China's tabloid newspaper Global Times, which is owned by the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, has been saying that in the event of armed conflict between Beijing and Taipei, the East China Sea would be one of the main battlegrounds. The latest show of force by the PLA's growing fleet is in line with Beijing's drive to put its troops through ever more complex and realistic war situations. Chinese state-run media had touted the PLAN Fleet Review as a move toward more transparency, with Beijing having invited more than 10 countries, including Japan, to take part in the fleet review, while more than 60 countries were sending naval delegations, with more than 30 of them featuring major naval leaders.
PLAN's this year's fleet review was on the heels of a similar parade last year in the South China Sea (SCS) that featured some 48 vessels and 76 aircraft, including aircraft carrier Liaoning, as well as guided missile destroyers, nuclear submarines and fighter jets. Significantly, the US only sent a representative from the defence attache office in Beijing for PLAN's fleet review in April 2019; no senior US official or naval vessel participated. US is also wary of China-Russia bilateral naval drills in the Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk, Yellow Sea, East China Sea (ECS) and SCS that have been going on periodically since 2012. But the fact remains that rising power of PLAN coupled with China's aggressive moves, hunger for territory and Chinese military strategy of ambiguity and deceit, in addition to blatant disregard for global norms doesn't augur well for China's neighbours.
Beijing continues to aggressively bolster its presence in the SCS and ECS. China's civilian naval militia, ostensibly mixed with PLA personnel in civil garb, has gained notoriety akin to a terrorist force at sea. China's pretenses of improving relations with India are laughable, which stands exposed by its conceited state-owned media – mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. A recent Chinese media article called the Indian Navy personnel unprofessional, prone to errors and unprepared to tackle emergencies. This was a comment on the recent fire accident that claimed the life of a naval officer on INS Vikramaditya. Such a comment reeks of a fake sense of superiority while China treats its own citizens as denizens of the dungeons – unconcerned with hundreds dying in coal mine disasters, killing anyone showing dissent and harvesting their organs and what not. Not to mention that China puts an iron curtain on accidents on board PLAN's vessels but in 2003 an explosion on board an overcrowded Ming-class diesel-powered submarine (Number 361) killed 70 on board while its capacity was 57 including 10 officers. Washington Post had reported in 2003 that there were also other accidents including explosion on a Xia-class nuclear submarine, but was kept under wraps. Again in August 2011, there was radioactivity release on board an 8000-tonne nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine but the casualties are not known. Clearly accidents on-board PLAN vessels continue to happen unreported but the moot point is that that arrogant China needs to look itself into the mirror before its head continues to bloat with self-generated conceit and explodes one day.