While the standoff continues, reports last week in China’s state-controlled media and online military websites suggested that the first of a new class of a stealthy littoral combat frigate, the type 056, had been launched at Shanghai’s Hudong shipyard with three others under construction.
Naval analysts said the new 1,700-tonne ship, armed with a 76mm main gun, missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes, would be ideal for patrolling the South China Sea.
These new warships would easily outgun the warships of rival claimants, they said.
The type 056 is the latest example of an accelerated military buildup that allows China to dominate its offshore waters.
While these warships were designed for lower-level regional conflict, experts say one of the primary goals of Beijing’s wider deployment of advanced, long-range missiles, stealthy submarines, strike aircraft and cyber weapons appears to be countering the U.S. military in the region.
“China is investing in a whole raft of capabilities to undermine the U.S. presence in the Western and Central Pacific,” said Babbage, a former senior Australian defence official.
“It is a fundamental challenge to the U.S. in Asia.”
Panetta and other U.S. officials routinely reject suggestions that the pivot is aimed at China but military commentators in Beijing appear in no doubt.
In a report last week on the U.S. military, the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association, a non-government security analysis group, said Beijing should be on alert in response to the U.S. military “return to Asia” and any attempt to intervene in disputes in the South China Sea.