3. What is the Chinese navy up to?
American analysts often use the term "string of pearls" to describe Beijing's supposed strategy of establishing a network of foreign naval bases, especially in the Indian Ocean, but the Chinese don't. The latest Pentagon report does not discuss whether China plans to create a U.S.-style network of permanent forward bases for the PLA Navy.
Nonetheless, there is no shortage of speculation that China will eventually deploy military forces to port facilities it has constructed in places like Burma, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Seychelles has invited China to use its ports as resupply points for Chinese ships, but Beijing has insisted that this is not the establishment of a first foreign base, unconvincingly calling it a "re-supply port." The "places or bases" debate has already been running for some years, and it will continue to rumble on while Beijing remains tight-lipped about its long-range ambitions.
The Pentagon report also struggles to shed light on China's future aircraft carrier program, beyond the existence of the single ex-Soviet carrier that is currently undergoing sea trials. "Some components of China's first indigenously produced carrier may already be under construction," it suggests, adding that "China likely will build multiple aircraft carriers and associated support ships over the next decade." That's guesswork. It's unknown whether China envisages merely a couple of working aircraft carriers as floating trophies designed to symbolize the country's arrival as a world power, a handful of combat-capable carriers to drive home its territorial claims in the South China Sea, or a larger number of U.S.-style carrier battle groups with a mission to project force globally.