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China's Naval Power on Display in Search for Missing Plane

China's Naval Power on Display in Search for Missing Plane
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China's participation in the international search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is giving its military a rare opportunity to operate in areas far from home and shape views about its military might.

It's not every day that Chinese planes touch down in Australia and Chinese naval vessels cruise past Christmas Island. In fact it is rare.

China has deployed some 13 ships to aid the hunt for the missing plane, its biggest ever such deployment so far from home. Security analyst James Nolt told VOA via Skype that the deployment is significant.

"This is important because China is participating in a multinational effort to locate the remains or the debris from the plane, China hasn't operated much in the Indian Ocean before, but it also doesn't have bases in the region so it has to operate from other countries such as Australia," he said.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 search area as of March 28, 2014
Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 search area as of March 28, 2014
China's expanding military might is a persistent concern in the region, as is the perception that through its territorial disputes, Beijing is angling to challenge the United States and Japan.

Wang Dong, a political scientist and Peking University said such views are wrong.

"One hole in that kind of reasoning is that we oftentimes tend to extrapolate intention from capability. So people assume that as your capability rises you must have very bad intentions." he said.

China's massive deployment highlights its growing strengths. But it also highlights the limits of its military might, said Nolt. Chinese satellites have twice spotted objects believed to be the wreckage, but the first earlier this month, turned out to be a false lead.

"China doesn't have any capabilities that are extraordinary or unusual in the region. It's beginning to bring into operation an aircraft carrier, but it's still not operational and it was not used in this case. India for example has had aircraft carriers operating in its navy for decades," said Holt.

China's robust cooperation alongside other regional powers in the search will bring it valuable lessons and send the region a clear message as well, said Wang.

"This has also helped China to actually send this very clear signal to the region and the international community that as its military continues to grow it will be able assume more responsibility and play a larger role in terms of providing regional as well as international public goods," he stated.

And as China involves itself more in such international humanitarian efforts, Wang says, that should help to break down concerns about its intentions.