China’s growing naval and paramilitary might receives daily attention. But what of China’s emerging role as a provider of capacity to coastal states in the Indo-Pacific?


Euan Graham  3 August 2018

Lowy Institute

Improving their maritime domain awareness has traditionally been the preserve of the “Quad” countries: the US, Japan, Australia, and India. That includes the donation of vessels and equipment to civilian maritime law enforcement agencies and navies in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the South Pacific. Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines are all repeat recipients.

Given China’s prodigious shipbuilding capacity, the availability of new or retired vessels is no issue.

Beijing has adopted a cautious approach towards capacity building in the maritime domain. China has mostly directed its regional contributions at improved maritime safety, providing navigational aids and surveillance equipment, usually on a bilateral basis and on a modest scale.

Beijing has been reluctant to gift vessels or engage in naval capacity building. Timor-Leste acquired two patrol vessels from China in 2010, but these were purchased. Myanmar and Malaysia have bought Chinese warships off the shelf.

Now Beijing appears to be stepping up its maritime capacity-building efforts. China recently donated a warship to Sri Lanka’s navy. Although details remain sketchy (the “frigate” may in fact be a corvette), the move was quickly interpreted as Beijing’s “latest effort to boost its military influence in the Indo-Pacific region”. According to one Chinese commentator, “India has donated armaments to South Asian countries, including warships to Sri Lanka. Why cannot China do the same?”

It was further reported recently that China will transfer a “surveillance and hydrographic” vessel to Fiji later this year. That will worry Canberra, as Australia is the predominant provider of maritime capacity to Pacific island nations via a $2 billion Pacific Maritime Security Program, including 21 new patrol boats (and aerial surveillance) in the pipeline, set to replace those already gifted as sovereign assets across the region.

It is no surprise that Beijing has stepped into the capacity-building influence game. Given the country’s prodigious shipbuilding capacity, the availability of new or retired vessels is no issue. The question was not “if”, but “when”.

The latest beneficiary of Chinese largesse is none other than the Philippines, an interesting choice not only because it has received surplus vessels from the US and Japan, but also because it remains embroiled in a tense territorial dispute with China. That is, despite the efforts of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration to curry favour with Beijing while talking down the US–Philippines alliance.

The Philippine Navy has already received four vessels donated by China. This apparently fulfils a 2016 promise by China to deliver “fast boats” as part of an arms package to the Duterte government.

Although described as “offshore patrol vessels”, pictures reveal them to be modest craft, just 12 metres long. They appear suited for riverine or inter-island work, but will do little to improve capacity where it really counts, in the South China or Sulu-Celebes Seas.

Sri Lanka may be a different proposition, but China’s vessel donation to the Philippines does more to advertise China’s limitations as a capacity provider than demonstrate its potential. The Duterte administration will no doubt thank Beijing profusely for its donation. Privately, however, the Philippine Navy is nonplussed, and has earmarked the patrol craft for out-of-the-way duties in Cebu after they have been security checked.

Token capacity-building gestures aside, the Philippine armed forces have bigger fish to fry, being on the receiving end of renewed threatening behaviour from Beijing in the South China Sea, including inflammatory warnings to its pilots and an intensifying encroachment in the Spratly Islands that has rattled Manila into reinforcing the features that it occupies, for fear of outright aggression from China.

None of this means that the so-called “traditional” providers of maritime security capacity-building can afford to rest on their laurels. Many potential recipients of Chinese vessels are not as conflicted as the Philippines. Sri Lanka and Fiji will be joined by others before long. The Quad countries must make it a priority to coordinate, and if necessary to deconflict, their capacity-building efforts, mindful of Chinese competition on the horizon.

Japan and Australia are lifting their game. But the US, in particular, needs to do more. US capacity building in the Indo-Pacific is dwarfed by resources that continue to flow to the Middle East, despite the former’s designation by Secretary of Defense James Mattis as Washington’s “priority theatre”.

Astonishingly, Congress appears set to halve its appropriation for the flagship Maritime Security Initiative, under which most regional US capacity-building efforts fall. Faced with such flagging commitment, China will find it easier to fill the void, even with lukewarm recipients.


Leave a Reply

SSCP   CAS-002   9L0-066   350-050   642-999   220-801   74-678   642-732   400-051   ICGB   c2010-652   70-413   101-400   220-902   350-080   210-260   70-246   1Z0-144   3002   AWS-SYSOPS   70-347   PEGACPBA71V1   220-901   70-534   LX0-104   070-461   HP0-S42   1Z0-061   000-105   70-486   70-177   N10-006   500-260   640-692   70-980   CISM   VCP550   70-532   200-101   000-080   PR000041   2V0-621   70-411   352-001   70-480   70-461   ICBB   000-089   70-410   350-029   1Z0-060   2V0-620   210-065   70-463   70-483   CRISC   MB6-703   1z0-808   220-802   ITILFND   1Z0-804   LX0-103   MB2-704   210-060   101   200-310   640-911   200-120   EX300   300-209   1Z0-803   350-001   400-201   9L0-012   70-488   JN0-102   640-916   70-270   100-101   MB5-705   JK0-022   350-060   300-320   1z0-434   350-018   400-101   350-030   000-106   ADM-201   300-135   300-208   EX200   PMP   NSE4   1Z0-051   c2010-657   C_TFIN52_66   300-115   70-417   9A0-385   70-243   300-075   70-487   NS0-157   MB2-707   70-533   CAP   OG0-093   M70-101   300-070   102-400   JN0-360   SY0-401   000-017   300-206   CCA-500   70-412   2V0-621D   70-178   810-403   70-462   OG0-091   1V0-601   200-355   000-104   700-501   70-346   CISSP   300-101   1Y0-201   200-125  , 200-125  , 100-105  , 100-105  , CISM   NS0-157   350-018  , NS0-157   ICBB  , N10-006 test  , 350-050   70-534   70-178   220-802   102-400   000-106   70-411  , 400-101   100-101  , NS0-157   1Z0-803   200-125  , 210-060   400-201   350-050   C_TFIN52_66  , JN0-102  , 200-355   JN0-360   70-411   350-018  , 70-412   350-030   640-916   000-105   100-105  , 70-270  , 70-462   300-070  , 300-070   642-999   101-400   PR000041   200-101  , 350-030   300-070  , 70-270  , 400-051   200-120   70-178   9L0-012   70-487   LX0-103   100-105  ,