CHINA has launched a new amphibious assault carrier in move which defence analysts believe transformed the People’s Liberation Army Navy the minute it entered the water.
The warship allows marines to capture beaches and land supplies on enemy territory and will operate alongside an increasingly powerful fleet of aircraft carriers, air defence destroyers and underwater drones. Its launch sends a clear message from Beijing to Taiwan over any hopes for future independence from its powerful mainland neighbour.
A potential Chinese assault on Taiwan has for years been mocked as the “million-man swim” because the navy did not have anything approaching the amphibious capability needed to land enough troops on the island.
But the jokes are now wearing thin has China pours money into transforming its navy into a fearsome fighting force.
The new ship increases China’s “vertical” amphibious assault capability with Taiwan’s mountainous east coast in mind.
Further afield, fellow South East Asian neighbours who dispute Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea will also be carefully monitoring China’s growing sea power.
The massive 35,000-ton vessel was launched from the Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai.
The Type 075 Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) has a large flat deck for helicopters, several lifts for aircraft and equipment and a long narrow runway.
It was built at incredible speed – just six months after the first construction photos the ship was ready for launch at a ceremony attended by officials from the Beijing and Shanghai governments, officers from the Central Military Commission’s Equipment Development Department and the PLA Navy.
Guests included executives of the State-owned conglomerate China State Shipbuilding Corp as well as the vessel’s designers and construction workers.
Naval engineers are now outfitting and fine-tuning the ships equipment and planning mooring tests and sea trials.
Defence experts said the new Type 075 LHD appears slightly smaller than the US Navy Wasp Class and America Class vessels but larger than French, Spanish or Australian equivalents.
A second vessel of the class is already under construction while a larger version is rumoured to be on the drawing board.
Today’s launch comes as Wasington takes steps to strengthen its ties with South East Asian allies amid growing tensions with Beijing over their actions in the South China Sea.
David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee White House was committed to its efforts throughout the region.
He said: “In Southeast Asia, there is great potential to further expand cooperation with treaty allies Thailand and the Philippines, and with important partners such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore.”
Mr Stilwell said the US was also working closely with treaty allies Japan, Australia and South Korea, which also have their own Indo-Pacific strategies.
He stressed Washington had deep concerns about China’s “provocative” actions against oil and gas activities in the disputed South China Sea.
He said: “These actions undermine peace and stability in the region, and call into question Beijing’s commitment to the peaceful solution of maritime disputes.”
Mr Stilwell said Chinese vessels were still carrying out surveys escorted by the navy and coastguard in the South China Sea to intimidate Vietnam.
His evidence to the committee came after a US think-tank warned China was building new military facilities on disputed islands in the South China Sea.