China launched its military build-up in the mid-1990s with a top priority: keep the United States at bay in any conflict by making the waters off the Chinese coast a death trap. Now, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is preparing to challenge American power further afield.
China’s shipyards have launched the PLA Navy’s first two Type 075 amphibious assault ships, which will form the spearhead of an expeditionary force to play a role similar to that of the U.S. Marine Corps. And like the Marines, the new force will be self-contained – able to deploy solo with all its supporting weapons to fight in distant conflicts or demonstrate Chinese military power.
The 40,000-tonne Type 075 ships are a kind of small aircraft carrier with accommodation for up to 900 troops and space for heavy equipment and landing craft, according to Western military experts who have studied satellite images and photographs of the new vessels. They will carry up to 30 helicopters at first; later they could carry fighter jets, if China can build short take off and vertical landing aircraft like the U.S. F-35B.
The first Type 075 was launched last September and the second in April, according to reports in China’s official military media. A third is under construction, according to the May edition of a Congressional Research Service report. Eventually, the PLA Navy could have seven or more of these ships, according to reports in China’s official military press.
Chinese military commentators quoted in official media say China’s shipyards are now building and launching amphibious ships so rapidly it is like “dropping dumplings” into water.
The military rivalry between China and the United States is only growing sharper. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared most of Beijing’s claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea illegal, throwing Washington’s weight behind the rival claims of Southeast Asian nations over territory and resources in the strategic waterway that were supported by international law.