China already has one aircraft carrier, and at the end of last year they officially declared they’re building a second one. It’s expected they’ll be making more in the years to come, and that will be a game changer for the South China Sea, warns a U.S. study.
“By 2030, the Chinese likely will have multiple aircraft carrier strike groups (CSGs), facilitating the overawing of lesser powers, enhanced regional prestige, and the demonstration effect of near-constant presence,” says an independent review of U.S. defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“For rival claimants in the South China Sea, this is a game changer.”
This will mean there will almost always be a Chinese aircraft carrier strike groups in the contested waters, or within a half-day’s steaming time, the study says.
“Whether they have seized territory or negotiated a resource-sharing scheme with some or all of the other claimants, the South China Sea will be virtually a Chinese lake, as the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico is for the United States today,” said the study commissioned by the Pentagon.
Watch this episode of China Uncensored about China building a new aircraft carrier:
The South China Sea is a key international trade route that is also abundant in natural resources. Beijing claims around 90 percent of it as its own territory, and over the past several years it has been busy turning atolls into islands capable of being militarized.
Beijing’s assertiveness has alarmed nearby nations especially the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam who also have been contesting claims in the area.
The CSIS study said that most Asia-Pacific nations are embracing closer security and economic ties with the U.S. They are also becoming more sensitive to China’s growing political, economic, and military power. The study added that Asia-Pacific nations are potentially susceptible to Beijing’s increasingly coercive conduct.
“Polls in Asian countries indicate strong support for the re-balance [meaning more U.S. attention in the Asia-Pacific], with the notable exception of China,” said the study.
CSIS notes that China’s military capability and capacity will shape how the region behaves toward them without a need for menacing Chinese behavior.
“The PLAN [Chinese navy] will have the ability to make U.S. naval operations in the South China Sea or the First Island Chain a risky proposition in a contingency, other than U.S. submarines.”
Beijing’s expanding military investments and its increasingly strong-arm actions show that the U.S. and its allies and partners face both long-term and near-term challenges to protect vital regional and global interests, says the study.
“Although Washington seeks to cooperate with Beijing where it can, the United States must also ensure that its engagements, posture, concepts, and capabilities allow it to shape, deter, and, if necessary, decisively defeat threats to U.S. interests,” advised the study.