China’s state-run media touted the growing power of the PLA Navy’s nuclear submarine force in a series of articles that ran over the weekend.
The article, which ran in a number of state-run publications, noted that China’s elite submarine units have taken a low profile to date, but suggested that they now would be more prominently featured in public relations media campaigns.
“After more than 40 years of development, now is the time for us to show the world our determination and ability to safeguard peace and tell our people about this ‘mysterious' force,” Rear Admiral Li Yanming, the political commissar at a nuclear submarine base was quoted as saying.
Other PLAN sailors quoted in the article suggested that China’s submarine force was capable of dealing with rival forces in the region.
Rear Admiral Gao Feng, the commander of one of the PLAN’s submarine bases was quoted as saying: “I think the claims of some on the Internet that we are backward and can't defeat other nations' navies are biased. Although our boats are not as advanced as our rivals', we have the ‘spirit of victory', and our tactics are good enough to enable us to compete with them.”
Gao added, “In addition, we have gained a lot of experience through confrontation with our rivals, and such occasions testify to our prowess and confidence.”
The newspapers separately carried a slideshow of what was purportedly the country’s first nuclear-powered submarine force. The submarines appeared to be China’s less capable Xia-class submarines.
The public show of force was a clear break from traditional protocol, according to M. Taylor Fravel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“It is still the first time that the Xia class has been discussed in such detail in China’s state-run media,” Fravel told the Financial Times.
Still, as other analysts pointed out, the Xia-class submarines have been around for decades and the PLAN is believed to be in the process of phasing them out.
China has long sought a credible sea-deterrent force. The program to build one was initiated under the leadership of Mao Zedong with a slated completion date of 1973. The program suffered from repeated delays, however, and China didn’t launch a ballistic missile from a submarine until 1988.
It seems to be making up for lost time. As The Diplomat reported in July, U.S. intelligence officials believe that China will begin sea patrols with its new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) as early as next year. The JL-2 SLBM will be deployed on China’s Type-094 (Jin-Class) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). It will be capable of hitting portions of the United States from within China’s second island chain.
Other recent reports from Chinese media sources said that China’s first fleet of nuclear submarines had just begun their first sea patrols.
An article in the People’s Daily last month stated: “China's strategic nuclear forces are weapons to deter third parties from becoming involved in local conflicts. China firmly adheres to the principle of non-first use of nuclear weapons, but the existence of strategic nuclear submarines will give China a stronger voice and more room for maneuver in the case of any crisis.”