China's naval vulnerability exposed by search for missing jetliner
When Chinese naval supply vessel Qiandaohu entered Australia's Albany Port this month to replenish Chinese warships helping search for a missing Malaysian airliner, it highlighted a strategic headache for Beijing - its lack of offshore bases and friendly ports to call on.There is more to being a great power than having hardware. It will be a test of Chinese diplomacy to be able to put together such arrangements. Right now they are pretty much limited to their own back yard.
China's deployment for the search - 18 warships, smaller coastguard vessels, a civilian cargo ship and an Antarctic icebreaker - has stretched the supply lines and logistics of its rapidly expanding navy, Chinese analysts and regional military attaches say.
China's naval planners know they will have to fill this strategic gap to meet Beijing's desire for a fully operational blue-water navy by 2050 - especially if access around Southeast Asia or beyond is needed in times of tension.
China is determined to eventually challenge Washington's traditional naval dominance across the Asia Pacific and is keen to be able to protect its own strategic interests across the Indian Ocean and Middle East.
"As China's military presence and projection increases, it will want to have these kind of (port) arrangements in place, just as the U.S. does," said Ian Storey, a regional security expert at Singapore's Institute of South East Asian Studies.
"I am a bit surprised that there is no sign that they even started discussions about long-term access. If visits happen now they happen on an ad-hoc commercial basis. It is a glaring hole."
The United States, by contrast, has built up an extensive network of full bases - Japan, Guam and Diego Garcia - buttressed by formal security alliances and access and repair agreements with friendly countries, including strategic ports in Singapore and Malaysia.