Alongside missions to assert sovereignty over disputed territory, the Chinese navy is also deploying naval flotillas to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia as part of its contribution to UN-authorised anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.
Beijing last month announced the departure of the 14th of these missions since December 2008.
These high-tempo operations are a sharp departure for a military that was largely confined to exercises and training within China’s land borders and coastal waters until recent years.
But they impose a new burden on a budget that had largely been devoted to the rapid modernisation of military hardware including big orders for new warships, submarines, strike aircraft and missiles.
Beijing last year announced a 11.2 per cent increase in military spending to $106 billion.
However foreign military analysts say much of China’s military spending is not included in the published budget.
The Pentagon last year estimated that Beijing’s real outlays for 2012 would be between $120 billion and $180 billion.
China’s spending is now second only to the United States although the Pentagon is bracing for a sharp drop in outlays as part of government-wide budget cuts, known as a sequester, starting from March 1.
However, China has its own budget woes as senior political and military officials complain of rampant corruption and waste in its 2.3 billion-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA).