China projects naval power in pirate fight
Its warships and special forces are due in the Gulf of Aden by Jan. 6.
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"China's navy is not good enough to meet the needs of China's maritime security, so I think it's necessary to build an aircraft carrier," says Mr. Peng, the military expert.Skip to next paragraph
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Neighbors cast a wary eye
But China's naval expansion makes some jittery – particularly in Japan and India. "Both are rivals of the Chinese," says Joshua Ho, an expert on maritime security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "Hence, any increase in China's naval assets or its ability to deploy long-range would be viewed as a threat to their own security."
India has its own great-power ambitions and Japan is concerned that "its influence in the region will wane," Mr. Ho explains.
Japan worries about a growing clash of interests as China's interest increasingly overlap with its own "exclusive economic zone."
A China with a heavily armed, oceangoing navy, "would be very dangerous for Japan, because China has many hidden intentions," says Hideaki Kaneda, a retired vice admiral and now the director of the Okazaki Institute in Tokyo. "Japan needs to keep a strict watch on Chinese movements."
Mr. Kaneda says he sees China advancing further and further east and cites "provocative" actions such as China's recent dispatching of two survey ships near the disputed Senkaku islands. He says the Somalia mission is a good "cover story" for China. The real purpose, he claims: "The PLA navy is now an ocean-going navy, so it must show the flag on the international stage."
Citing several Chinese submarine intrusions into Japan's waters, Katsuhisa Furukawa, of Tokyo's Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society, says China's military doesn't adhere to "international norms" – and that it's not sufficiently transparent about the intent behind its rapid naval buildup.
"China has so many faces," says Mr. Furukawa. "It's [Japan's] largest economic partner, but also a potential competitor on the international political stage, and a possible military threat.... There are deeply-rooted concerns in India about the future direction of China, and the same is true of Japan."
China's ships have made friendly visits to Indian ports for a couple of decades, and the two conduct regular joint exercises. But India takes a dim view of China's cooperation with archrival Pakistan. And some fear China's visits could quickly turn into a permanent naval presence, limiting India's elbow room in its own backyard.