US Navy chief ‘crying for funds’ by hyping China’s rapid shipbuilding capability
Published: Feb 23, 2023 08:32 PM
Officers and soldiers of the 42nd Chinese naval escort fleet wave to the crowd at the Port of Richards Bay, South Africa, Feb. 19, 2023.(Photo: Xinhua)

Officers and soldiers of the 42nd Chinese naval escort fleet wave to the crowd at the Port of Richards Bay, South Africa, Feb. 19, 2023.(Photo: Xinhua)

A top US Navy official recently claimed that the US is trailing China in building warships and accused the country of using "slave labor," in a publicity stunt that Chinese experts said was aimed at hyping the "Chinese threat" theory to gain more funding. 

The US Navy fleet still leads the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy by far in terms of actual capabilities, which are reflected more by total displacement rather than number of ships, they said. 

US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said on Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington that China's navy "has significant advantages over its US rival, including a bigger fleet and greater shipbuilding capacity," CNN reported on Wednesday.

The US must upgrade its fleet in response, he said, as the PLA Navy has about 340 ships and the number is increasing, while the US has less than 300, according to the CNN report.

Del Toro claimed that US naval shipyards cannot match the output of Chinese ones, as China has more shipyards while the US lacks skilled labor.

In recent years, the PLA Navy has indeed made huge strides and built dozens of modern warships, including those of the Type 052D and Type 055 destroyers, the Type 075 amphibious assault ship, plus the Fujian, an electromagnetic catapult-equipped aircraft carrier. However, they serve the needs of China's normal and rightful national defense modernization amid the country's growing comprehensive national strength and complicated national security situation. Even so, the US Navy is still far ahead of the PLA Navy overall, experts said.

The US should not gauge a navy's capability by the number of ships, as the real indicators should be the total displacement and technologies, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Thursday.

Many Chinese vessels are small corvettes and boats used for coastal defense, which are vastly different from US aircraft carriers and cruisers that are designed for global deployment, the expert said.

Song Zhongping, another Chinese military expert, told the Global Times that the US Navy operates 11 nuclear-powered super carriers and uses the most cutting-edge nuclear-powered submarines.

By hyping the "China warship number threat," the US Navy is just seeking more funds from Congress so that it can further expand and maintain its global hegemony, experts said.

Del Toro also accused the Chinese shipbuilding industry of using "slave labor," but his remark was refuted even in the CNN report, which quoted Blake Herzinger, a nonresident fellow and Indo-Pacific defense policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, as saying that "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."

Herzinger said comments like that from the US Navy chief are indicative of a pattern where US attention is put in the wrong place, as the US Navy leadership throws stones at real or imagined faults in Chinese shipbuilding rather than reckoning with US failures over two decades to conceptualize, design and build ships for its own navy.

The US Navy Secretary's accusation is just another publicity stunt aimed at gaining attention in US political circles, Chinese experts said. They said that if the US really realized that its shipbuilding industry lacks skilled labor, it should resolve the problems by raising the pay for designers and workers rather than making accusations against China.