China has achieved remarkable achievements in the development of its naval forces, though the People's Liberation Army Navy is facing ever increasing challenges due to uncertain relations with the US, experts say.
The PLA celebrated Navy Day on Monday, marking the 69th anniversary of the founding of China's navy.
China's first domestically built aircraft carrier Type 001A is currently under construction at Dalian Port, which is about to finish outfitting work and prepare for its first sea trial.
On Monday morning, the carrier started to move from its berth at the outfitting quay. Chinese military enthusiasts and net users hailed the update saying this could be the "best birthday gift" for the navy.
"Very soon, China will have two aircraft carrier strike groups. Extensive training on the country's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has given the PLA Navy experience operating the huge ship in the open sea, and gained initial capabilities on military operations in the far seas," Wang Yunfei, a Beijing-based naval expert and a retired PLA Navy officer, told the Global Times on Monday.
A third aircraft carrier the Type 002, which is much more advanced than the Liaoning and the Type 001A, is under construction at the Shanghai Jiangnan Shipyard.
The PLA Daily and the Ministry of Defense released a video on their official websites and social media accounts showcasing the achievements of the PLA Navy in recent years. The video provides details on China's nuclear submarines, the country's first overseas logistics base in Djibouti, anti-piracy missions in Somalia, amphibious landing military exercises by the Marine Corps and the aircraft carrier strike group's training missions in the open seas.
China's submarine-launched nuclear strike capability has also been improved, Wang said. "The Type 094 nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) can carry multiple missiles and nuclear warheads," he said.
The Type 094 nuclear submarine is a highly classified strategic warship, but it appeared at the massive naval parade in the South China Sea on April 12. A new type of Chinese SSBN is under construction, according to military sources, and will have much more advanced combat capabilities.
Although the Chinese navy has made remarkable achievements, it still needs to improve in many areas, including anti-submarine capability, additional auxiliary ships for replenishment missions, and boosting the development of amphibious assault ships, said Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator.
"With China's fast-growing overseas national interests, the navy's mission will be more complicated and significant. China now has only one overseas logistics base in Africa, but in the future, the Chinese navy will need more bases around the globe, especially in key regions, to support its overseas missions, said Xu Guangyu, a retired major general of the PLA and senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
The Navy Day in 2018 is unusual, Wang said. "The recent uncertainty between China and the US has brought challenges to China's navy. Possible incidents including the US sending senior officials or naval ships to Taiwan carry the danger of military conflict. The requirement for China to use it navy and other military forces is increasing."
The PLA is conducting various missions around Taiwan to deter "Taiwan independence" forces and foreign forces that try to provoke China's sovereignty, including sending the Liaoning on a training mission near Taiwan, sending bombers and fighter jets to fly around the island, and launching live-fire drills in the Taiwan Straits.
Solving the Taiwan question militarily would require powerful amphibious landing capability and China is developing its new amphibious assault ships that will carry China's most advanced armed helicopter, the Z-20. The PLA Navy will very soon have the ability to conduct massive amphibious landing operations, which can deliver a division of troops at a time, Wang said.