China is accelerating activities in the Arctic as part of its “Polar Silk Road” and trying to promote itself as a “near-Arctic state,” the U.S. Defense Department said.
A growing fleet of icebreakers and civilian research stations in Iceland and Norway could support a strengthened People’s Liberation Army presence in the polar region, the Pentagon said Thursday in its annual report on China’s military. The department cited the potential deployment of nuclear-armed China submarines to the region as one area of U.S. concern.
The report described a Chinese military that was rapidly expanding its reach and capabilities as part of President Xi Jinping’s push to complete a modernization drive by 2035 and build a “world-class” force 2049. That included efforts to establish an aircraft carrier fleet, with the country’s first domestically built vessel expected to join the PLA Navy this year, and the successful test of a hypersonic glide vehicle in August.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing didn’t immediately respond Friday to a faxed request for comment.
China continued to improve its ability to conduct complex joint operations to counter what its leaders view as an increasingly confrontational approach by the U.S., the report said. Last year, Beijing focused efforts to acquire sensitive, U.S. dual-use, or military grade equipment including dynamic-random-access memory, aviation technologies and antisubmarine warfare technologies.
China placed anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands in South China Sea, the report said, despite Xi’s 2015 statement saying the country “does not intend to pursue militarization” of the vital sea lane. The U.S. withdrew China’s invitation to large-scale international naval exercises in response to the deployment last year.
Arms sales supporting China’s broader foreign policy goals continued to increase, including sales of armed-unmanned-aerial vehicles and precision-strike weapons, the report said. Cai Hong series drones have been sold to “Burma, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates” because China “faces little competition for these sales,” it said.