The expansion of China’s military is no secret. Beijing raised the People’s Liberation Army budget by 7% this year, typical of its annual increases. Late last year it floated one aircraft carrier into the open Pacific and in April unveiled a domestically built aircraft carrier, its second in the fleet. On Wednesday the PLA navy announced it had finished work on a destroyer warship that can displace 10,000 tons, according to the state-run China Daily news website.
This is a particularly major advance. The extra-hardy, domestically built destroyer not only helps Beijing double down on its disputed claims in the East and South China seas but also gives it new deterrent weight against its most powerful Asian rivals such as Japan and India.
The destroyer launched Wednesday in Shanghai with air defense, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons that can outdo India’s Project-15B Visakhapatnam destroyers, according to Indian media reports. India’s ship can displace 8,200 tons of military hardware when fully armed and can carry 50 missiles. China’s destroyer, a type of ship that can start battles as well as block shots fired first, may also outrank Japan’s destroyers, two maritime experts told me on Thursday.
“They are making serious advances,” says Euan Graham, international security director with the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. “If you throw enough money at any problem you gain ground.”
In 2000 Japan’s defense agency maritime unit began building Atago-class destroyers with load displacement of more than 10,000 tons. The Japanese destroyer is equipped to handle the Aegis combat system developed in the United States to track and guide offensive missiles.
“The Ageis system on the Japanese destroyers, that’s an American system, so we know at least that is proven,” Graham says. “I think the point is the Chinese are newer to the game here.”
Speaking of the United States, China’s ship dubbed a Type 055 may also be able to vie with U.S. naval vessels, says Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. American Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyers are built for weight displacement of 8,315 to 9,200 tons. “In a similar class, Japan’s is bigger than the Arleigh Burke, the Republic of Korea had one that’s bigger than Japan’s and now China has built a bigger one,” Huang says. It can independently do combat in the air and water, he says.
China probably plans neither to attack anyone nor be attacked. The Communist leadership prefers talks by a wide margin to anchor its claims to the South China Sea. However, Beijing resents Indian influence in nearby waters. Its vessels sometimes venture close to parts of the Japanese-controlled East China Sea that Beijing calls its own, but analysts usually call those forays PR moves to remind everyone that China hasn’t given up.
The Chinese destroyer, set now for sailing and mooring tests, represents a “milestone” for the PLA, China Daily says. It’s bigger than China’s previous Type 052D destroyers, which could displace 7,000 tons and “observers…call it one of the largest and mightiest of its kind in the world,” claims the site.