Sunday, April 22, 2012

Recent activities around Chinese shipyards

The last blog entry was deemed to be too negative toward Chinese social problems by some readers. So, I want to spend this entry to just catch up on the activities around the different Chinese shipyards. In many ways, this has been one of the most active years of naval shipbuilding in recent times. We are seeing heavy activity going on in most of the major shipyards around the country. Below are some of the recent photos we have seen of surface ships. There has been a continued submarine production, but I've somewhat lost track of the exact number of Yuan submarines that have been produced. I think they are still in the single digits. Work is also continuing on Varyag, but I don't have any news to report other than it is recently conducting another sea trial. First of all, the 056 project is really making some progress. They are building them in both HuDong and HuangPu shipyard alongside the 054A projects. I'm really curious of how the 056 will turn out in the end, but it's already turning out to be smaller than I had expected. If you get a full picture of 056 next to 054A at HP shipyard, you'd see how small 056 is. Interestingly enough, it does have an outsized looking bow mounted sonar. There are currently 2 056 in advanced stage of construction at HD shipyard. You can see them below with the first picture showing both of them and the second one just showing the one that's more advanced.

The pictures below shows the first 056 from HP shipyard that is building beside the 8th 054A from there. This appears to be the 056 that's the furthest along.

The pictures of 052C below are from a month ago. The first two pictures shows the third, fourth and fifth 052C from JN shipyard. The third one has since joined the East Sea Fleet as 150. The next 3 052C should be joining the same flotilla as 150. You can see that the fourth and fifth are both launched and in various stage of fitting out. I don't believe either has gone on sea trials yet.

The next two photos show the 6th and 7th 052C under construction and yet to be launched. It's still unknown at this point if these units will have any differences from the launched ones.

We have not seen much new action for 071 LPD. The third unit is still parked outside of HD shipyard.

The picture below shows the 2nd and 3rd Type 926 submarine tender that were getting fitted out at GuangZhou shipyard. I believe the second one may have gone on sea trials recently, because we have not seen any pictures coming out for it.
Of course, the 054A project is still ongoing. The picture below shows the 6th 054A from HD shipyard. The 5th one just joined service recently with North Sea Fleet. I haven't seen any recent photos of the 7th one, because HD shipyard has a lot of activity going around.

The next two are the 7th and 8th 054A from HP shipyard. I think the 6th one is close to joining service. The 8th one looks to not be that far away from launching.

And finally, we are seeing new AOR ships with PLAN. Unlike previous speculations, these look to have very few modifications from the existing Type 903 AORs (886, 887) currently in service with PLAN. One of them was launched a month ago in Guangzhou.

The other one is in advanced stage of construction of HD shipyard.

So, there is a lot of activities going on. I will I have more time to report on these things, but things are pretty busy, so I will try to report on them once in a while.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Looking at a recent article on US/China rivalry

The relationship between China and America has been characterized by many as complex. Even with the bitter partisanship in Washington, most democrats and republicans seem to have no problem looking at China as a threat and using China as a scapegoat for economic problems in America. I think it's also quite clear that the US military views China as its most likely foe in the future regardless of how many confidence building measures are proposed. Of course, the Chinese government officially try to avoid overly confrontational language, even though PLA generals and Global Time often voice strong opposition to America.

Recently, I read this article where it talks about how people in the Chinese ruling elite really feel about America. Here are a few really interesting snippet.

The senior leadership of the Chinese government increasingly views the competition between the United States and China as a zero-sum game, with China the likely long-range winner if the American economy and domestic political system continue to stumble

China views the United States as a declining power, but at the same time believes that Washington is trying to fight back to undermine, and even disrupt, the economic and military growth that point to China’s becoming the world’s most powerful country

the authors say the level of strategic distrust between the two countries has become so corrosive that if not corrected the countries risk becoming open antagonists.

In contrast, China has mounting self-confidence in its own economic and military strides, particularly the closing power gap since the start of the Iraq war. In 2003, he argues, America’s gross domestic product was eight times as large as China’s, but today it is less than three times larger.

the Chinese leadership, backed by the domestic news media and the education system, believes that China’s turn in the world has arrived, and that it is the United States that is “on the wrong side of history.”

China’s financial successes, starting with weathering the 1998 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, the execution of events like the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai Expo in 2010, contrast with America’s “alarming” deficit, sluggish economic recovery and polarized domestic politics

None of these above views are surprising, since I've read all of these view points from different sources and at least partially agree with most of the above points. It's particularly hard to address all of them, so I hope I don't go completely off track with my thoughts here. I think this is an extremely important topic. I know this can be a sensitive topic and most of my views are probably not popular, but I can only state how I see things. I do apologize in advance if I offend anyone.

The first question is whether or not US is a declining power. I think if we compare where US is right now to where it was at the collapse of Soviet Union, there is no question that it has declined. More than anything else, I think the two prolonged wars in Middle East that are operated completely on debts have really accelerated the American decline. In the coming years, I think it will decline further when compared against the rising economies of China, India and Brazil. In several areas like financial prowess and manufacturing power, China has already caught up or surpassed America. In other areas like military, higher education/research and cultural influence, it's hard to see when China will ever catch up to America. The areas that China will likely to gain ground on America in the coming years is the overall economy and political influence around the world. Another thing to consider is that American allies in the Western world are also on the decline due to debts issues, decreasing productivity and population decline. So if we just look at the current economic and finance situation in America and the rest of the Western world, it would seem like China (and other rising powers like India and Brazil) are poised to take over.

The second question is whether or not the China is actually ready to take over from America. I think the answer to this is no. A lot of times, we are blinded by the 30+ years of economic growth in China and fail to see the problems in the country. The problems that China and America face are quite different. America is facing huge debts problems from years of excessive public and private sector spending. American Federal, state and municipal governments faces much financial problem in the coming years related to the runaway health care, social security and public sector pension costs. China's government is not burdened by these excessive public sector spending problems, but it faces a lot more social problems. I have always that pollution and corruption are China's biggest problems. Now, I have to add two more to the list: the extreme male/female population imbalance and the increasingly unsustainable wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The first problem results in a lot of frustrated single men, large prostitution industry and escalating home prices (from women demanding owning home before marriage), Having a lot of frustrated single men have historically been a really bad social situation (more conflict and wars). The second problem is exaggerated by the absolute wastefulness of many rich Chinese people and how these people made their money in the first place. These people make Wall Street bankers look like Mother Theresa's. So even though China has gotten a lot wealthier, there are serious social tension within the country toward the wealthy and the corrupted officials that are further exaggerated by frustration over male/female imbalance, lack of free speech, inflation and very polluted environment. The Chinese government really has more things to worry about at home. On top of all of this, China's banks and local governments are also grappling with debt problems from all of the recent economically unfeasible public sector projects. I think the Western bank and public sector debt problems are larger, but China's debt problems are ready to explode too. The Chinese leadership would be making a huge mistake if it overestimates itself and underestimates America.

The third question is whether or not America is really trying to hold back China. I think the answer to this is yes. China's goal is to create a multi-polar world where it assumes regional hegemony. American goal is to remain as the sole superpower in a unipolar world where no other country establishes local hegemony. Clearly, the two countries have different political goals and will clash against each other. Currently, this is playing out in South East Asia where China is trying to achieve regional hegemony, but America has managed to inject itself back into the region and prevent that. I think this will continue to play out in the future as long as the two nations have such polar opposite political vision. I think that once India grows powerful enough, it will also clash with America on the very same issues. Just think about what would happen if India becomes confident enough to assert its own view points on countries like Iran, Afghanistan and demand greater say in energy coming out of the Middle East.

The fourth question is whether or not this is a zero sum game. I think the answer is yes and no. The two countries can obviously work together to address a lot of the security threats that we face today. At the same time, China cannot achieve regional hegemony with America around nor can it be part of a multi-polar world without America loosing influence. There is also the scenario where both country looses influence if the social problems in China blows up and the debts problems in America blows up. We are already seeing EU declining significantly in the recent years due to its financial and debts problems. The other part of the zero sum game is economy. In the near term, the two countries need each other to have continued economic growth. If one country suffers a large slow down, it will have large affect on the other country. As I've said in the past, a trade war would have crippling effects on both countries. In the long term, I think it is somewhat of a zero sum game. The world has finite natural resources and energy sources. As we approach peak oil, the cost of energy will simply grow higher and higher. If all of the countries are battling for the same finite resources to keep economy going, then they will clearly be in competition with each other. We already see some of that with China signing deals around the world for oil reserves and mining rights to different natural resources. This is another area where India will also really be competing with China and America on. Just imagine the energy and natural resource demand of China and India if they all seek to live the same quality of life as Americans. As the world population expands, we will also be battling over basic necessities like water and food.

In the end of the day, I think both countries face a lot of challenges ahead. In their current path, China and America clearly has confrontation world view, but that may change in the future. If China goes through a period of social instability or economic meltdown, who knows how its foreign policy will change. Looking at its 5000 years of history, China has always been a country that concentrated on itself. If America goes through anything close to Greece style debts crisis, I think that would have to cutback on its role in the world affairs. I think India will be a very large player in the future as its population and economy continues to grow. I think Brazil will also have a very strong voice in the future, whereas countries like Japan, UK and the rest of EU will continue to be in decline. In 15 years, we won't just be talking about a G2 kind of world. With energy and natural resources become increasingly scarce, we could see conflicts over them in the future. More than anything, I think that's where I see the highest possibility of a major future conflict.