In the years ahead, the design of China's carriers and the limited experience of their crews will likely keep them in the Western Pacific, where Beijing is focused on Taiwan and its disputes in the East and South China Seas, but Chinese warships already have a global presence.
Chinese surface ships have operated "for extended periods well beyond the Western Pacific for years now," Thomas Shugart, an expert on naval warfare at the Center for a New American Security, told Insider.
Beijing recently sent its 41st escort task force to the Gulf of Aden, where its has done regular anti-piracy patrols since 2008. Those task forces "consist of 3-4 ships and are usually gone for 3 to 4 months, spending most of that time at sea," Shugart said. Chinese naval task forces have also circumnavigated the globe and sailed to Europe and through the Aleutian Islands.
"China has made clear that one of its biggest national security priorities over the long-term is to be able to maintain the security of its overseas interests, as well as the security of its global sea lines of communication," Shugart said.
Without more overseas air and naval bases than China currently has, those carriers "will be necessary to achieve the required level of sea control to achieve these goals, especially in the face of a potential adversary like the US Navy," Shugart said, but reports over the past two years indicate that Beijing is seeking that additional basing.
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