PLA to be more capable of defending sovereignty
China has shown great restraint in the South China Sea dispute, but in the face of provocation, the country is becoming more capable of defending its territorial integrity, analysts said as China announced major military reform plans that highlighted a strong navy.
The comments also came on the heels of a foreign ministry response to Vietnam's protest against China's test flight to a newly built airport on Yongshu Jiao of the Nansha Islands on Saturday.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, and will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side.
"The Chinese government conducted a test flight to the airport with a civil aircraft in order to test whether or not the facilities on it meet the standards for civil aviation. Relevant activity falls completely within China's sovereignty," Hua said.
Her statement came after the Vietnamese foreign ministry accused China of violating its sovereignty and called China's airport "illegal."
The US has also said it was concerned over Saturday's flight and called on all claimants to "publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features."
China has persistently exercised great restraint in the disputes over the Nansha islands, but when facing groundless provocations and threats to the country's territorial integrity, China's naval power is strong enough to defend itself, Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times on Sunday.
China's maritime strategy can only be fulfilled on the premise of a strong naval force, considering the current situation, Chen said.
China's naval forces saw a significant improvement in the past few years, while the recent military reform will optimize the structure of the country's navy force and improve its combat capability, Chen said.
China's push to reform its military coincides with the complicated territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea, while the country's navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers, a Beijing-based expert, who asked for anonymity, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"The reform has improved the navy's status within the Chinese military, phasing out outdated navy armaments and developing new maritime weapons as well as improving combat ability," Li Jie, a naval expert based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday.
According to a guideline on deepening national defense and military reform released by the Central Military Commission (CMC) on Friday, the former army-centric system will be replaced by a joint command where the army, navy and air force are equally represented.
The four headquarters, General Staff, General Political, General Logistics and General Armaments, have been reorganized and the seven military commands have been rezoned.
The military reform will enhance the joint military cooperation among the army, navy and air force, Li said.
The streamlined command structure can guarantee a swifter response during major events in the future, Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times.
Meanwhile, the country is building its second aircraft carrier, the country's first independently designed one, the Ministry of Defense said Thursday.
The upgraded missile force and newly launched Strategic Support Force will also improve the navy's combat capability, analysts said.
They believe the name change from "Second Artillery Force" to the "Rocket Force" represents China's determination for military transparency.
Song, in particular, said the Rocket Force will not only operate strategic missiles, but also conventional weapons, which will significantly enhance the whole army's combat capability, while the Strategic Support Force can provide network, spacecraft and electromagnetic countermeasures for the navy.
No hidden agenda
China has always maintained that its construction on the islets in the South China Sea is for civil use.
Chinese President Xi Jinping clarified that relevant construction activities China is undertaking on the Nansha Islands do not target or impact any other country during his state visit to the US in October, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Moreover, China does not intend to pursue militarization of the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea. All its military deployment is necessary, limited and defense-oriented, the report said.
The military reform will help China create a strong navy in keeping with its international status, Chen said.
According to Chen, the territorial disputes are merely a small part of China's maritime strategy. A strong navy will not only protect a country's territory, but also its maritime interests and international reputation.