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China planning five-fold increase in marine force

A container is loaded on to the first Chinese container ship to depart after the inauguration of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor port in Gwadar. File photo   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

China is set to rapidly expand its marine corps and the Navy in anticipation of the development of its Maritime Silk Road (MSR), which covers the Pakistani port of Gwadar, and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

The Hong Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoting “military insiders and experts” reported that China is planning a five-fold increase in its marine force — from 20,000 to 100,000 personnel.

Guarding CPEC

These numbers are still well short of the 182,000 strong marine corps of the United States, which has an aviation component of 1,199 planes.

Some of the Chinese marines would be stationed at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and the Pakistani port of Gwadar, the starting point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

“Besides its original missions of a possible war with Taiwan, maritime defence in the East and South China seas, it’s also foreseeable that the PLA Navy’s mission will expand overseas, including protection of China’s national security in the Korean peninsula, the country’s maritime lifelines, as well as offshore supply deports like in Djibouti and Gwadar port in Pakistan,” the daily quoted Li Jie, a Beijing based naval expert as saying.

The SCMP write-up did not clarify whether China was considering a limited deployment of its marines, or had a larger plan of establishing a de facto naval base in Gwadar.

Last week, the Pakistani daily, Dawn quoted Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa as saying that the country’s security forces were “fully prepared” to meet all security challenges to projects of the CPEC and Chinese nationals living in the country.

Collaboration with Pak.

He made these remarks on Saturday during a visit to the headquarters of the 15,000 strong Special Security Division (SSD), charged with the “security of Chinese on CPEC and non-CPEC projects”.

The daily said that the SSD, formed after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Islamabad in 2015, will provide security to Chinese personnel and projects throughout the country. The division has been established in close collaboration with China and the two sides are also cooperating to implement a multi-layered security plan.

The SCMP report said that two brigades of special combat soldiers had already been moved to the marines, nearly doubling its size to 20,000.

Eventually, the marine force of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be raised to 1,00,000, comprising six brigades. The PLA Navy (PLAN) — a force of 2,35,000 personnel — was also likely to expand by 15%.

The daily quoted Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong as saying that an expanded marine corps could help maintain security for China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative. The OBOR plan is a mega-connectivity initiative spanning Eurasia, which has a land and a maritime wing called the MSR.

In tune with the OBOR and friction in the West pacific, China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang earlier this month highlighted that Beijing would “move ahead to become a strong maritime power and is resolute in protecting its maritime rights”.

Liu Xiaojiang, former Navy political commissar and now deputy head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) — China’s Parliament — said that Beijing will “certainly” build a larger navy roster, the China News Service reported.

This was corroborated by Li Jie, the naval expert, who, separately, told Global Times that PLAN would be inducting new ships including 7,000-tonne missile cruise ships, which would mainly operate in the open seas. Besides, 1,000-ton missile destroyers and corvettes would be inducted for carrying out off-shore tasks including escorting convoys.

He added that the East China Sea will be the prime focus for the deployment of naval forces, as it is linked to the country’s core interests including territorial sovereignty. The South China Sea will also remain in focus as it is a key area for the country’s strategic development projects, such as the MSR.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 8:08:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-planning-fivefold-increase-in-marine-force/article17457925.ece

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