China is working on an underwater surveillance system that may thwart U.S. maritime advantage in the Asia-Pacific region.
The “Underwater Great Wall Project,” as it is called, proposes a network of ships and underwater sensors capable of “real-time location, tracing of surface and underwater targets,” according to the China State Shipbuilding Corporation.
The company shared details about the project at its booth at a late-2015 public exhibition in China. Translation of the description was obtained by IHS Jane’s, a British publisher specializing in defense, security, aerospace, and transportation intelligence.
The network “could significantly erode the undersea warfare advantage held by U.S. and Russian submarines and contribute greatly to future Chinese ability to control the South China Sea,” IHS Jane’s wrote in a May 17 article.
China is muscling its way into the South China Sea, claiming vast territory already claimed by other neighboring countries that rely on the United States for military protection. Particularly disconcerting was China’s recent move to build advanced military facilities on a man-made island it has created in the Spratly Islands region between Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
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The underwater surveillance project resembles the sound surveillance system (SOSUS) the United States deployed in the 1950s to detect Soviet submarines.
The Chinese plan has been described in greater detail in a late 2015 article by China Ocean News, a publication sponsored by the China’s State Oceanic Administration.
Since 2010, China invested at least 290 million yuan (over $44 million) into underwater surveillance systems at its southern shore bordering the South China Sea.
But the initiatives have suffered lack of coordination, duplication, and waste of resources, among other problems, the article states.
It calls for a “top-level design” of a project that won’t be limited to the waters in China’s jurisdiction, but should also take into account offshore and deep sea areas, remote islands, and channels and “lay the foundation for future expansion.”
“It is emphatically stated, moreover, that China’s ambitions for its undersea observation system cannot be restricted to its coastal waters, but rather may be appropriate to deploy into all ocean areas touching Chinese national interests,” wrote Lyle J. Goldstein, associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College, in his analysis of the article.
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The Chinese regime has begun construction on a military base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, that will be used to extend the reach of its military.
“Currently, construction of infrastructure for the support facilities has started, and the Chinese side has dispatched personnel to Djibouti for relevant work,” said Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense, in a transcript of a Feb. 25 press briefing.
Qian said the base will logistical support will be among the base’s main uses. He claimed the Chinese regime would use it for missions to escort ships through the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast, and for “peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance.”
According to other Chinese officials, however, the base could be the start of a more nefarious agenda.
A major general in the Chinese military recently called for China to contain the United States by attacking its finances, saying “that’s the way to control America’s lifeblood.”
The call was made by Maj. Gen. , a professor at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) National Defense University, in an op-ed published in the official mouthpiece of the PLA, China Military Online.
Liang said a key part of this strategy, the CCP should place strategic importance on major shipping channels, including the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait, Gwadar Port, and the China–Pakistan Railway.
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The PLA’s military base in Djibouti is at the mouth of the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which sees close to 3.2 million barrels of oil pass through it each day.
Liang is one of two PLA officers who wrote the 1999 book, “Unrestricted Warfare,” which has become a roadmap for China’s use of unconventional warfare—from currency manipulation to cyberattacks.
In his recent op-ed, and noting a long-term strategy to control key points with geopolitical value, he states “To effectively contain the United States, other countries shall think more about how to cut off the capital flow to the United States while formulating their strategies.”

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