Courtesy Reuters

China Afloat

A Great deal of information has been published about the military strategy and forces of the People's Republic of China, some through official Chinese publications, much more through the writings of Western analysts. Most of this information concerns China's massive ground forces, with a respectable amount of coverage given to her air arm and even to her nascent nuclear missile forces. What about China's navy? "Didn't know they had one," is the derisive response one is most likely to receive.

There are several reasons why China's naval forces have received so little attention. The Chinese Navy has been dwarfed by the massive Chinese Army. The air force and navy combined comprise at most about 20 percent of China's military manpower. Secondly, the navy is just now beginning to get its "head of steam." Furthermore, it has heretofore maintained a low visibility, operating in waters close to its own shores from bases seldom if ever visited by foreigners, shunning traditional show-the-flag foreign port visits. It has been almost totally ignored in official Chinese press releases. Under this shroud of secrecy, information is simply unobtainable even by the increasing numbers of Western visitors to China.

Even granted ready access to military information, should one reasonably expect to find significant naval development in China today? The competition for scarce resources alone-for her developing economy and for the other military services with which her land-oriented "Long March" leadership certainly must feel more at home-would seem to indicate no. And then there is our traditional concept of China as a continental power.

In the short historical consciousness of the average American, pre- communist China is pictured as an awkward, continental giant. When we think of the old China we seldom think of the great Middle Kingdom, which had an historical continuity reaching back over 4,000 years and periods when its national power and culture-unparalleled in other areas of the world-reached out well beyond its own borders. Instead, the popular image of China is that of the nineteenth and

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