China is set to retrofit thousands of merchant ships for military purposes so they can be used in the event of a war, another disturbing indication of growing tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Shipping industry publication TradeWinds reveals that China is preparing a new fleet of “war-ready ships” to serve as “a reserve military logistics wing” in the event of a naval conflict.
The new policy will apply to “containerships, ro-ros, multipurpose ships, bulkers and other ships,” with shipbuilders receiving a government subsidy to pay for the cost of making the vessels “militarily useful.”
According to American Maritime Congress president James Caponiti, the move is another sign that Beijing is intensifying its military build-up while Washington stands idly by.
“Do we really want China to be that much more capable?” he asked.
Explaining the decision to retrofit merchant ships with military technology, People’s Liberation Army researcher Cao Weidong said, “Modern naval warfare often requires the mobilisation and deployment of a large number of ships while the mass production of naval ships in peacetime is not economically sensible.”
How soon is China expecting to have to engage in “naval warfare”?
Tensions over Beijing’s military fortification of islands in the South China Sea have been building in recent weeks, with Beijing repeatedly issuing warnings to U.S. surveillance planes flying over the region.
An editorial in the Communist Party state mouthpiece Global Times last month that warned “war is inevitable” if Washington doesn’t halt its demands that Beijing stop building artificial islands.
Experts have warned that an accidental collision between aircraft, similar to a 2001 incident which sparked an international controversy, could spark a deadly conflict. According to Michael Auslin, a war between the two superpowers is more likely than at any point in the last 20 years.
Billionaire investor George Soros also wrote an article for the The New York Review of Books this week in which he reiterated his warning that Beijing may seek to provoke a conflict with the United States.
“The US government has little to gain and much to lose by treating the relationship with China as a zero-sum game. In other words it has little bargaining power. It could, of course, obstruct China’s progress, but that would be very dangerous. President Xi Jinping has taken personal responsibility for the economy and national security. If his market-oriented reforms fail, he may foster some external conflicts to keep the country united and maintain himself in power,” writes Soros.
“This could lead China to align itself with Russia not only financially but also politically and militarily. In that case, should the external conflict escalate into a military confrontation with an ally of the United States such as Japan, it is not an exaggeration to say that we would be on the threshold of a third world war.”