China increases warship expenditure to bolster sovereignty claims over South China Sea

China’s sovereignty claims over territory in the South China Sea have antagonized competing claimants such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Taiwan. In addition, the U.S.’ involvement in favor of some of these countries compelled China to build advanced combat capabilities to counter the U.S. Navy’s aerial and naval assets. 

Consequently, China’s expenditure on destroyers is set to witness a compound annual growth rate of 5.2% between 2023 and 2033, forecasts GlobalData, a data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s latest report reveals that China is expected to spend around US$17.7 billion on destroyers during the forecast period.

Reportedly, China’s relationship with the U.S. has deteriorated over the years as both sides stepped up naval activities in the highly contested South China Sea and Indo-Pacific region. As a result, an increased number of confrontational incidents have spiked between the two countries.

Akash Pratim Debbarma, Aerospace & Defense Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Following recent close encounters between US and Chinese military aircraft, both sides need to find ways to restore military-to-military communications, which were suspended last year.” He adds that the restoration of military-to-military communications was one of the key agreement points that was reached after President Biden and Xi met in San Francisco during the APEC meeting.

“However, as the presidents of both sides met to normalize their ties, China continued to carry out maritime drills in the South China Sea using its most advanced maritime assets, such as the Type-055 destroyers. This indicates the unlikelihood of any near-term thawing of the relationship between the two countries.”

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) recently launched the seventh Type-055 large destroyer, also named Zunyi is one such capability built with the intent to safeguard China’s territorial claims and maintain sovereignty and security in the region. Amidst the tension in the region, PLA conducts air defense and sea assault exercises, showcasing its new destroyer’s combat prowess and operational effectiveness.

Debbarma concludes: “Even though the exercise was termed a regular affair and was aimed at improving the preparedness level of the PLA, such a display of combat capabilities will surely distress the other countries in the region. 

“Also, holding a drill amid peace talks will certainly not send the correct signal. It is too early to say if both countries will be able to establish an effective military-to-military communication channel, but the US’ first move to clear tensions between the two sides does indicate the mature intention of the West to maintain peace and harmony in the region through diplomacy and dialogue.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Max Zolotukhin

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