|Photo: Four Chinese Merchantmen sailing in the Gulf of Aden , Escorted by PLAN (Chinese Navy vessels) (Photo Credit, PLAN)|
The Dragon has approved a set of technical guidelines that require Chinese civilian ship builders to incorporate elements of naval utility in new vessels. The guidelines cover five categories of vessels container ships, "RO-ROs" (roll on /roll off), multipurpose vessels in the same size range as the container ships and , bulk carriers, and break bulk or general cargo carriers. These "technical standards" are part of the China Classification Society "Technical Standards to Implement National Defense Requirements ." In the United States such design elements are required in ships only when the owners receive a Maritime Administration subsidy. In international commerce, owners often shop both flag states and classification societies to get the best financial deal. China has operated in the past and probably still has some "open registry" vessels flagged in Liberia, or Panama, or other open registry states but Chinese built vessels built in Chinese yards for Chinese registration and use must meet the China Classification Society Rules. So from now on China built, China registered means Chinese naval auxiliary.
The implementation of this policy will enable the Dragon to convert the potential of its merchant fleet into military strength , especially sea lift capacity ,greatly enhancing the
Chinese Navy's strategic projection and maritime support capabilities. This is the sort of thing needed to make the Chinese Navy a dragon that can truly swim the globe. The Chinese national legislature will soon begin work on a National Defense Transport Law that will entitle shipbuilders to receive funds to cover the extra cost of making ships suitable for military use (construction differential subsidy) and provide additional insurance for owners in case their vessels are damaged during military operations. The United States for the most part dropped its construction and operational differential subsides decades ago with the predictable result that the United States deep draft merchant marine has shrunk down to virtual military uselessness.
We find this development particularly disturbing when viewed in conjunction with the recent formation of much of China's commercial fishing fleet into a "naval militia". (See THE DRAGON EXPANDS ITS MARITIME MILITIA ). There is nothing illegal in international law in preparing your merchant fleet to be able to provide supply transport services to your armed forces. Back in the day when we actually had adult leadership in Washington we did exactly that our selves, through the exact same mechanism, subsidies. But unlike the U.S. much of China's merchant shipping is state owned. This was once true of Russia as well. The Russians were notorious for claiming that their state owned merchant ships were naval vessels and painting the occasionally necessary regulatory boarding as an "Act of war" when it suited them. The U.S. always conducted itself with the applicable international law. We acknowledged the ships as "state property" but not as war ships. In order to enter a civil port and discharge or load commercial cargoes, ships must formally "enter through Customs". No matter what a ship's potential as a naval transport under other conditions if it "entered through customs it was treated as a merchant vessel subject to all applicable regulations. China often seems either confused over the finer points of maritime commercial shipping law or deliberately twists the law to suit the Dragon's purpose. China's recent declaration of much of their commercial fishing fleet as "naval militia" is worrisome for neighbors trying to enforce their own fisheries laws in waters that China is trying to claim jump. Any forceful regulatory actions may be construed by China as a war like act against one of their "War ships". Now we have to walk on eggs around their large merchant fleet as well. China's deep draft ocean transport fleet numbers around 2,600 ships in comparison to America's fleet of about 200 such vessels. Nothing about this latest announcement is good news for America or her area allies like the Philippines and Japan.
China's Rise to Commercial Maritime Power: