As China’s navy evolves, it looks increasingly familiar.
In his first months leading the Chinese Communist Party, General Secretary Xi Jinping has continued and expanded his predecessor’s emphasis on naval development. Under Hu Jintao’s leadership, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) began continuous deployments to the Gulf of Aden that arguably established a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean, regularized fleet operations beyond the First Island Chain, and hosted a 60th anniversary international fleet review attended by ships from 14 nations. Last year, it commissioned the aircraft carrier Liaoning and commenced limited fixed-wing flight testing and training operations. The internet meme of Chinese citizens imitating the Liaoning ’s aircraft launch officers’ hand signals—dubbed “aircraft carrier style”—points to the tremendous popularity of the new PLAN flagship. Buoyed by new capabilities and missions, the service has grown more prominent in the Chinese military hierarchy and the public eye.