ISSUE 4 : May/Jun - 1977 - Australian Defence Force Journal

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ISSUE 4 : May/Jun - 1977 - Australian Defence Force Journal

THE NAVY OF THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF CHINA. 1976-1977 43sive arena and that the sea is a minor theatrewhich will do little to shift the balance andfortunes of war (the generic term for the PRCmilitary forces is the Peoples liberation Arms(PL.A), in itself an illustration of this attitude).A Navy is a technological instrument and onethat is not readily open to improvisation andexpansion as are the ground forces. This jarredwith the classic Maoist dictum that the Peoplecan surmount almost any threat — that peopleare more important than machines. When theCommunist forces won the Chinese Civil Warthe leadership were acutely aware of the needto transform a massive semi-guerrilla armyinto a modern military force with effectiveground, air and naval services. How this wasto be achieved has been a source of continuingtension and argument within the military/political establishment. This subject is a conflictbetween the military and the politicalelements of the establishment, between generationsand differing views as to what are thecorrect directions of military doctrine andpractice. History is a heavy burden particularlyfor old cultures, the above are someaspects of China's historical experience andmilitary philosophy affecting the developmentof the PRC Navy.The PRC could not dispute the need fornaval power and the demands of modern warand urgent attempts were made to obtain combatants,including western units. Soviet Russiaassisted in the development of the PRC Navyand it was with its aid and advice that thefleet expanded. Russian experience and doctrinestressed that as a first requirement thehome coasts must be secured (i.e. primarilya task for light forces) before more ambitiousnaval building could be undertaken. In accordancewith this advice, the Chinese initiallyconcentrated upon equipping the navy withlight patrol and submarine forces. Severaltypes of combatant vessels were transferred toChina from Russia but the main emphasis wason self sufficiency. Soviet vessels, their Chinesecopies and derivations, now form the bulk ofthe fleet and China now has a potent navyreasonably well equipped to carry out thebasic task of defending the mainland. It is,however, an overwhelmingly defensive forceof light combatants and patrol submarines andit is only in the last few years that China hasseriously attempted to augment her deep seaRiga FFijane's Fighting Ships)capabilities. In tribute to this defensive policyit is probably true to say that the Soviet andChinese (as well as the North Korean) coastlinesare the most intensely defended in history.Soviet guidance did tend to play down theneed for larger combatants in the PRC Navy.It is significant that a large proportion ofmajor combatants built since 1949 were builtafter the Sino-Soviet split. This is in part dueto the state of the Chinese shipbuilding industryat the time and the economic situation ingeneral, but also possibly because of China'sinterpretation of her naval role. A morecynical view is that the Soviets did not want tocreate a navy commensurate with China'sstature and potential and that it was preferablethat China did not exert too much navalinfluence in her regional sea and ocean areas.Certainly the spilt was to some extent due toa Chinese conviction that Russian interestswere not necessarily those of China and thatthis was evident in many areas of their relations.Conventional Naval Developmentsafter the Sino-Soviet SplitBy modern standards most major PRC navalunits are fairly old and out of date, both inage and design, some units date back to beforethe Second World War. In line with theChinese and Maoist preference for self sufficiency(Mao's "walking on two legs"), mostof these vessels have undergone extensivemodernisation and most are still in service.A shift towards larger combatants and a true"blue water" capability (although in no wayimplying a global capability or ambition)became noticeable in the late sixties when Lin

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