Bangkok – China is out to transform itself into a naval power by building a "string of pearls" - a series of military and diplomatic strategic bases - along the major sea lanes from the South China Sea to the oil-rich Middle East, according to Mr Hideaki Kaneda, a retired vice-admiral of Japan's Self-Defence Forces. "Many ofChina’s neighbours are alarmed," he said.
In a commentary published in The Nation, Mr Kaneda, who is now director of the Okazaki Institute, noted that China had managed to secure the agreement of several countries in Asia to set up various facilities.
In Bangladesh, China is building port container facilities at Chittagong for its naval and merchant fleets. It is also building more naval bases and electronic intelligence gathering facilities on islands own by Myanmar in the Gulf of Bengal.
"Indeed, China's ties with Myanmar's military dictators look set to turn into a de facto military alliance," Mr Okazaki wrote.
In Thailand, China has invested US$20 billion in a plan to build a canal across the Kra Isthmus to connect the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Siam. Once completed, the canal will provide China with an alternative oil import route to the Strait of Malacca.
In the South China Sea, China is developing systems to allow large-scale deployment of naval and air force units by fortifying bases on Hainan Island and the southern Chinese coastal area. On the Spratly and Paracel islands, China is building port facilities to moor large surface ships and runways large enough to handle long-range bombers.
"In effect, China is in the process of building a group of literally unsinkable aircraft carriers in the middle of the South China Sea," Mr Okazaki argued.
"All of Asia must wake up to the arrival of Chinese-style aggressive '‘sea power'. Japan, in particular, must reformulate its national maritime strategy with this in mind. Japan, America and other traditional maritime countries must also once again treat 'sea power' in Asia as a key component of their ability to defend their own national interests."
* The rise of Chinese sea power (The Nation, Sept 14)