An ocean separates the United States and China. His domain is now also a matter of dispute. Since the end of the Second World War, control of the Pacific and the seas of the world has been on the radar of the US Navy.
Great marines of war, like that of Russia or India, have not been able to overcome it in number or capacity. But for a couple of years, Washington’s naval experts fear for a “new danger” for the world’s strongest naval power: China’s growing maritime power.
James Fanell, former director of intelligence of the Sixth Fleet of the United States, presented in May to the Congress a 64 – page report in which ensures that China is currently developing an A rmed twice larger than the United States and could replace as the main world maritime power.
“The Chinese Navy is in a process of rapid development and expansion of its capabilities, and that is logically generating concern in the United States,” explains Lyle Goldstein, a professor at the Institute of Maritime Studies of China at the US Naval College.
“In recent times, we have seen that they have even developed an own aircraft carrier, designed by themselves, and they are also talking about the construction of a third party, with nuclear capacity, which should be a source of pride for them, but which generates concern for this side, “he adds.
The launch at the end of April 001A, as the new aircraft carrier is known, was one of the multiple signals of naval power that Beijing sent to the world in recent months, including:
This May, the Chinese Navy launched into the sea and began training on board its second destroyer of class 055, the largest and most advanced vessel of this type in naval forces throughout Asia.
Their warships and fighter jets were part of an ostentatious military exhibition in the controversial South China Sea, whose sovereignty is a matter of dispute with the United States and other countries in the region.
Chinese naval forces sent H-6K bombers with nuclear capability to several of the disputed islands in that sea.
“These are facts that obviously have an important military connotation and that is why the United States withdrew the invitation to China to participate in the RIMPAC (the largest naval exercise in the world that will take place in the summer),” Christopher Yung explains to BBC World. Professor of the Marine Corps University.
In Washington, for now, the alarms have already been fired.
Bryan McGrath, a researcher at the United States Naval Power Center at the Hudson Institute, tells BBC World that the Chinese Navy has been behind for more than a generation, which has made the development in recent times more impressive.
President Xi Jinping urged a profound reform of the Army to change its priorities: a cut of 300,000 soldiers in exchange for investing more in innovation and technology to modernize its armed forces, especially naval, air or missile.
According to the report presented by James Fanell to Congress, the Chinese Navy already outperforms the United States in some respects: It has deployed 330 ships and 66 submarines (396 in total).
The United States, on the other hand, has currently deployed a total of 283: 211 ships and 72 submarines.
According to the calculations of the report presented by Fanell, China will have 450 ships and 99 operating submarines and the United States about 355 by the year 2030.
And the great uncertainty, in his opinion, is whether Washington will be able to finance enough naval constructions to float such a large number of ships and submarines by then.
The former intelligence director of the Sixth Fleet also warned that, while the United States seeks to have the best military technology by sea and air, China has closed the technological gap.
“The quality of warships (in Beijing) already presents a credible threat in the Asia-Pacific region today,” he said.
However, for Professor Yung this does not necessarily imply that Beijing surpasses the military power of the world’s leading power at this time.
“In these cases, it should be analyzed in terms of size, that is, number of ships, and military capacity, I would say that we have little time for China to reach us in the first, but I think it would still be at least a decade or two before China reach the United States in capacity in combat power, “he explains to BBC World.
Goldstein, for his part, points out that while the United States has 11 large nuclear aircraft carriers, China only has two that are significantly smaller and without atomic power.
“The submarine force is developing it but ours is still superior and we also have more experience,” says the professor of the Institute of Maritime Studies of China at the Naval College of the United States.
According to researcher Bryan McGrath, China’s maritime development has led to the balance of power having varied “significantly” in recent years.
Goldstein, for his part, points out in that sense that in some of the areas of tension, such as Taiwan and the South China Sea are now, the navy in Beijing outperforms the US Navy.
“It is a region that is closer to the mainland of China, so geographically they have a greater advantage, but in the open sea, the United States Navy will remain the most powerful for a long time, ” he says.
In fact, according to Yung, one of the issues to consider is whether Beijing is strengthening its regional Navy solely for the strategic control of the South China Sea or wants to develop a global maritime force to compete with other powers such as the United States.
According to the International Peace Research Institute based in Stockholm, Sweden, although Washington remained the country with the highest global defense spending in 2017, China made the largest absolute increase in those costs (US $ 12 thousand). millions).
That is why, in the opinion of Macgrath, the fact that China now seeks to be the leading power in the Asia-Pacific region makes the challenge for the United States in a few decades greater if it wants to expand its control.
“The problem is that maintaining that domain that the United States Navy now has entails a series of expenses that I think do not have the necessary support, and what I see in a period of 15 years is that we will stop being the naval force most powerful in the world, “he says.