- China’s navy has significant advantages over its US rival, including a bigger fleet and greater shipbuilding capacity, as Beijing seeks to project its power across the oceans.
- US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said China “consistently attempts to violate the maritime sovereignty”
- China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy could be fielding up to 400 ships in the coming years.
According to the US Navy’s Navigation Plan 2022 released last summer, the Pentagon’s goal is to have 350 manned ships by 2045 – still well short of the projection for China’s fleet. Before that target is met, however, the US fleet is expected to shrink as older vessels are retired, according to a November report from the US Congressional Budget Office.
Del Toro’s Claims
Del Toro said Tuesday that US naval shipyards can’t match the output of Chinese ones. As with fleet size, it’s about numbers. “They have 13 shipyards, in some cases their shipyard has more capacity – one shipyard has more capacity than all of our shipyards combined. That presents a real threat,” he claimed. Del Toro did not give a breakdown of those shipyards, but Chinese and Western reports say China has six major and two smaller shipyards building naval vessels. But no matter the number of shipyards, they need workers, and Del Toro says China has a numerical advantage there, largely because it is free of the restrictions, regulations and economic pressures that affect labor in the US.
Del Toro did not supply specifics to support the slave labor allegation, and analysts expressed doubt that Beijing would resort to such a tactic. “China has a very large pool of available manpower and it wouldn’t really make sense to use slave labor in a high-tech sector vital to their national security,” said Blake Herzinger, a nonresident fellow and Indo-Pacific defense policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute. Herzinger said comments like that from the Navy chief are indicative of a pattern where US attention is put in the wrong place – to the detriment of US abilities.
According to a US Congressional Research Service report from November, the US Navy has taken steps to address the gap with China, including assigning more of its fleet to the Pacific and using newer and more capable ships in Pacific roles. And Del Toro said Tuesday that the US retains one big advantage over China – “our people.” “In many ways our shipbuilders are better shipbuilders, that’s why we have a more modern, more capable, more lethal Navy than they do,” he said. US military personnel are better on their feet, too, Del Toro contended. “They script their people to fight, we actually train our people to think,” he said.
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