April 16, 2009 / 3:17 AM / 11 years ago

Chinese navy spells out long-range ambitions

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will accelerate development of warships, stealth submarines and long-range missiles as the country makes a stronger navy a priority in military modernization, a Chinese admiral told state media.

North Korean soldiers march on the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong April 15, 2009. REUTERS/Jacky Chen

Admiral Wu Shengli said the Communist Party leadership had ordered the navy to upgrade preparedness to defend the nation’s expanding interests, Chinese newspapers reported on Thursday.

“The Party central leadership has demanded that the navy make preparedness for military struggle at sea a priority in national security strategy and military strategy,” Xinhua news agency cited Wu as saying in the interview first issued on its website (www.xinhuanet.com) on Wednesday.

“We must accelerate progress in developing key weapons equipment,” Wu added, singling out big warships, long-distance stealth submarines, supersonic jet fighters, and high-accuracy long-range missiles.

Chinese media have highlighted the government’s hopes to build an aircraft carrier, seen as the badge of a mature ocean-going power. But Wu’s remarks highlighted the country’s broader ambitions to expand its naval reach.

China’s navy had become an “ocean-going iron Great Wall” to “counter a range of security threats,” Wu said.

He gave the interview to highlight the 60th anniversary of China’s navy, which will be marked next Thursday with a ship parade. But his outline of Beijing’s ambitions also comes after recent friction in the South China Sea with a United States navy ship, and also while China is showing its expanding reach by joining anti-piracy operations off east Africa.

Wu, a member of the Central Military Commission, which steers China’s military forces, said the People’s Liberation Army Navy was becoming more adept at long-distance operations.

Chinese military plans have long centered on Taiwan, the self-ruled island close to the mainland coast that Beijing says must accept eventual reunification, by force if necessary.

But with China’s appetite for energy and resources increasingly dependent on distant sources, strategists have called for a navy that can protect the nation’s interests in distant seas.

“Training on high seas has become the norm,” Wu said.

But the PLA navy has a long way to go before it approaches U.S. naval power. China has about 290,000 navy personnel, many working on aged vessels. And even with new technology, China has some way to catch up in mastering joint operations.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie

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