Chun Han Wong, China RealTime (Wall Street Journal Blog)
13 August 2015
China’s navy sails the ocean blue, and its saucy ships are beauties. Their sailors are sober men and true, and attentive to their duty.
That’s the steely image the Chinese navy is projecting in its latest clarion call for recruits – a slick video laying out Beijing’s ambitions of creating a powerful maritime force that can safeguard Chinese interests anywhere across the globe.
The video, released late last week, comes as the People’s Liberation Army Navy gears up for a frontline role in President Xi Jinping’s increasingly assertive defense and foreign policy, marked by what antsy neighbors call aggressive moves to assert control over disputed Asian waters.
In May, Beijing unveiled plans to expand its navy’s ability to project power from coastal waters into open seas. In nearly four-and-a-half minutes of dramatic footage and stirring orchestral music, the video presents a potent picture of this 21st-century fighting force: Soaring jets, sprawling squadrons of warships and submarines, displays of devastating firepower, and even strapping sailors striking stoic poses.
“In whichever corner of the globe, where there is azure [blue water], we will stand guard,” the video declares, vowing a resolute defense for the 3 million square kilometers of ocean that Beijing claims.
“The navy needs you. Together we’ll realize the dream of the great rejuvenation,” it adds, referring to the “China Dream” catchphrase that President Xi calls his push to revive the country as a global economic and military power.
Between shots of Chinese-claimed islands in the East and South China Seas, the film also depicts a plethora of ocean-going warships, including the PLA Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as well as its amphibious transport docks and advanced guided-missile destroyers.
“Our territory is vast but we won’t allow any sliver of our frontiers to be ceded to others,” the video warns. “Struggles over maritime rights have never ceased. We shall never yield even the tiniest bit of our resources.”
Such rousing rhetoric, experts say, underscores Beijing’s determination to build a powerful navy commensurate with its expanding global interests – an agenda that has worried China’s neighbors as well as the U.S.
To this end, the PLA Navy has undertaken some high-profile long-range operations in recent months. In March, Chinese warships ferried more than 600 Chinese nationals from conflict-torn Yemen, two months before two PLA Navy missile frigates joined Russia’s Black Sea Fleet for drills in the Mediterranean Sea.
Even so, observers say PLA Navy remains a force in transition – capable of more than mere coastal defense but still a far cry from being a true blue-water force like the U.S. Navy.
“(The PLA Navy) is a ‘green-water’ navy: one that is moving away from littoral combat to limited power projection out a thousand nautical miles or so from its coast,” said Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “In particular, the Chinese navy is currently striving to be a major maritime force out to the ‘first island chain’ – that means the South and East China Seas, mainly.”
The recruitment film is “overplaying [China’s] capabilities for blue-water operations,” which require “sustainable, long-range forces capable of operating at sea for long durations, resupplied at sea,” Mr. Bitzinger said.
Some analysts see the prospect of a Chinese blue-water navy as simply a matter of time. “In the next decade, China will complete its transition from a coastal navy to a navy capable of multiple missions around the world,” the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence said in a recent report.
What doesn’t appear in doubt is China’s penchant for stirring propaganda like the navy recruitment video. Its release comes as China prepares to stage a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two on Sept. 3 – likely a grand affair for showcasing for Beijing’s burgeoning military muscle.
With vivid depictions of exploding ordnance and massive firepower, “there’s definitely an element of signaling in [the video], and it’s not meant to be reassuring to regional powers,” said J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow with the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute. “This is meant to scare potential opponents – to win a war without having to fight.”
View Clip (RT: 4:23)