BEIJING, March 10 China will step up patrols and
ensure it has a "first class" navy equipped with the best
armaments, senior military officers told the official Xinhua
news agency, as China steps up its ability to project power far
from its shores.
China's navy has been taking an increasingly prominent role
in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its
first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and new
Chinese warships popping up in far-flung places.
With President Donald Trump promising a U.S. shipbuilding
spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on
hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China
Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.
Wang Weiming, deputy chief of staff of the People's
Liberation Army Navy, told Xinhua on the sidelines of the annual
meeting of parliament that China is speeding up the development
of a marine corps, adding destroyers and frigates and will step
up air and sea patrols.
"We will intercept any intruding aircraft and follow every
military vessel in areas under our responsibility," Wang said.
"Our sailors should stay vigilant and be able to deal with
emergencies at all times."
China's second, domestically-developed aircraft carrier is
in "good shape" and now awaiting fitting, he added, in comments
reported late Thursday.
Experts expect it will enter service around 2020, joining
China's existing, Soviet-built carrier the Liaoning.
Another senior officer, Li Yanming, political commissar of
the Navy's armaments department, said a "first-class navy should
be equipped with first-class armaments", the report added.
Navy arms manufacturing would have "better quantity,
quality, scope, and functionality", Li said, without
China's military ambitions, including taking a more
assertive stance in the disputed South China Sea, including
building artificial islands and ramping up defence spending,
have long rattled its neighbours.
China this year initially failed to publicly release its
defence budget on the opening day of parliament as it has done
in previous years, finally saying a day later on Monday that it
would rise by 7 percent to 1.044 trillion yuan ($151.12
China's defence spending amounts to only about a quarter of
the U.S. defence budget, though many experts believe its actual
spending on the military to be higher than the official figure.
China denies it is a military threat to anyone.
Wang Huayong, deputy political commissar of the Eastern
Theatre Command, told Xinhua that Chinese forces are for
defensive purposes only.
"The aircraft carrier is still in training and trial stage.
The marines remain weak, and the number and quality of
long-distance vessels do not meet expectations."
China's navy is not seeking to be a bully or trying to build
a force beyond a level compatible with the country's development
and its military still lags behind China's current power and
status, he said.
"We have never gone to the doorstep of others to show off
our military power," he said. "The construction on the South
China Sea islands are mostly civilian in nature, a right
bestowed by the international law."
($1 = 6.9086 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)