While the recruitment of civilian maritime assets for military purposes is not unusual, the recent announcement is nevertheless a sign of the growing aspirations of Chinese naval planners in developing naval expeditionary warfare capabilities.
The Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily, citing a notice by the China Classification Society, reported Beijing has approved a number of technical guidelines to be adopted by commercial and civilian shipbuilders that will ensure new vessels will be able to transform for use by the military in the event of an emergency.
The new “Technical Standards for New Civilian Ships to Implement National Defense Requirements” will apply to five types of vessels: container, roll-on/roll-off, multipurpose, bulk carrier and break bulk.
In contrast, India has separate rules for combatant and non-combatant vessels. The Rules and Regulations for Construction and Classification of Indian Naval Combatant ships developed by Indian Register of Shipping have been released this month by Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R K Dhowan.
Explaining the decision to retrofit merchant ships with military technology, People’s Liberation Army researcher Cao Weidong said, "Modern naval warfare often requires the mobilization and deployment of a large number of ships while the mass production of naval ships in peacetime is not economically sensible."
China has in the past adhered to liberal interpretations of what its national security entails, most recently in the South China Sea, where it has invested in extensive construction of artificial islands, landing strips, and even two lighthouses in the Spratly and Paracel Islands and the South Johnson Reef.
The China Classification Society, a group tasked with registering ships, approved of the plan to militarize civilian vessels, claiming it would “enable China to convert the considerable potential of its civilian fleet into military strength.”
Now the only question remain is that how soon is China expecting to have to engage in "naval warfare"?
China Shipping Lines