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Coronavirus Economic Crisis Squeezes China’s Plans to Expand its Navy as it Marks 71st Anniversary

China has built the world’s largest deployable fleet of vessels, recently pursuing an aggressive naval strategy. Given the high cost of maintaining the fleet, however, the blow to the country’s economy from Covid-19 means expansion will be stymied

(with Manoj Kewalramani)

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy marks its 71st anniversary today. It comes amid intensified drills in the near seas and Western Pacific, along with deepening tensions in the South China Sea. The navy has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s military reforms.

Driven by great power ambitions, Chinese naval shipbuilders have been churning out warships at a record pace over the past few years. Consequently, the Chinese navy today has the world’s largest deployable fleet of vessels. The irony, however, is that in the post-Covid-19 world, this expansion could prove to be the navy’s Achilles' heel.

Soon after he assumed office as Communist Party general secretary in 2012, Xi convened a collective study by members of the politburo to set forth a vision for the expansion of China’s sea power. This vision has since manifested itself in the commissioning of new types of vessels, the militarisation of the South China Sea and a new focus on far seas operations.


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