BEIJING: The PLA Navy is likely to secure significant new funding in China's upcoming defense budget as Beijing seeks to check U.S. dominance of the high seas and step up its own projection of power around the globe.
China's navy has been taking an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and new Chinese warships popping up in far-flung places.
Now, with President Donald Trump promising a U.S. shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.
"It's opportunity in crisis," said a Beijing-based Asian diplomat, of China's recent naval moves. "China fears Trump will turn on them eventually as he's so unpredictable and it's getting ready."
Beijing does not give a breakdown for how much it spends on the navy, and the overall official defense spending figures it gives - 954.35 billion yuan ($139 billion) for 2016 - likely understates its investment, according to diplomats.
China unveils the defense budget for this year at next month's annual meeting of parliament, a closely watched figure around the region and in Washington, for clues to China's intentions.
China surprised last year with its lowest increase in six years, 7.6 percent, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit jumps.
"Certainly, the PLA Navy has really been the beneficiary of a lot of this new spending in the past 15 years," said Richard Bitzinger, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
"We don't how much they spend on the navy, but simply extrapolating from the quantity and the quality of things that are coming out of their shipyards, it's pretty amazing."