The Chinese Navy commissioned three advanced warships in April, part of a larger effort from Beijing to challenge American military dominance in the South China Sea and encroach on Taiwan.
People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) officials announced the triple commissioning of a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, a guided-missile cruiser, and a helicopter carrier at a naval base located near the South China Sea. Chinese president Xi Jinping reportedly attended the ceremony.
The Chinese naval buildup comes after a series of escalations from Beijing toward Taiwan, a democratic country and American ally. In March, China flew 54 flights into Taiwanese airspace and another 25 in early April. The aggressive behavior coincided with incursions into the South China Sea, including 220 ships landing within one of the U.S. Navy's defense perimeters, leaving questions about the territorial security of Taiwan.
Two more helicopter carriers are already under construction in Shanghai. The carriers can house several aerial vehicles, making them a formidable threat in the event of an amphibious invasion of Taiwan.
The guided-missile warship, known as the Renhai-class cruiser, sports its own advanced radar technology and array of missile systems. Beijing has authorized the construction of eight other Renhai-class cruisers. Meanwhile, China is building an additional nuclear-powered submarine, which defense analysts say improves their defensive nuclear posture.
U.S. military planners say China may invade Taiwan in the next six years, and former naval officers expect a war over Taiwan could spread to Australia, Japan, and even the Indian Ocean. Australian defense minister Peter Dutton told reporters Sunday a conflict between Taiwan and China "should not be discounted."
Republicans suggest a larger navy and defense budget would meet the rising threat from China. It remains unclear, however, if the Biden administration will stay the course and build a larger U.S. fleet, as early signals from the White House indicate a stagnant defense budget. An April 22 report from the Congressional Budget Office said the December 2020 shipbuilding plan authorized by the Trump administration will cost an average of $34 billion annually, 10 percent more than an original estimate from the Navy.