China’s aircraft carrier will enhance global security

The creation of a blue-water navy will improve the country’s defence, protect national interests and keep sea lanes safe for commerce

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 2:09am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 6:01pm

China has taken a small but significant step towards the creation of a blue-water navy. The hull of the nation’s first home-built aircraft carrier eased into the water yesterday from the dry dock where it has been under construction in Dalian, taking modernisation of the navy to the next level. It will be several years before the vessel is ready for operation, with fitting and testing of equipment still being needed. But the message is clear: China is on the way to attaining the goal of being able to protect its interests, no matter where in the world they may be, and doing its part to ensure global peace and stability.

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The yet-to-be-named 315-metre-long vessel joins the Liaoning, the country’s first carrier, which was launched in 2011 after being bought from Ukraine as a hulk and refitted. It is scheduled to be operational by 2020 and furthers the shift in focus for the People’s Liberation Army towards putting more resources into naval and air forces. A third carrier is already under construction in Shanghai. President Xi Jinping (習近平), who has made modernising and overhauling the military a priority, has called on commanders to embrace change.

China’s neighbours have expressed concern about the carrier programme. Japan was particularly vocal last December about the Liaoning’s first foray into the western Pacific; the carrier and its support ships ventured east of Taiwan and south of the Japanese island of Okinawa through the Bashi channel to the north of the Philippines before turning and heading west to Hainan Island. But China’s aim is not to cause disquiet; while an aircraft carrier group projects power, it also offers protection and provides help in emergencies. Among the benefits are giving presence along the sea lanes for the “Belt and Road Initiative”, ensuring the safety of trade and people travelling such routes, protecting and assisting in the evacuation of citizens in trouble spots and supporting Chinese economic and political interests.

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China is some way from attaining that objective. The Liaoning is largely a training vessel and the just-launched carrier, expected to be named the Shandong, will be using aircraft-launching technology that is already out of date by US standards. Even when commissioned into the navy, it will mean China only has two carriers, compared to the 10 the US possesses. For the nation to become a great maritime power, it will need at least three carriers – one for training, another for naval duty and the third for maintenance.

China does not intend to challenge the US’ naval dominance or flex its military muscle. The role of its carriers and other vessels is to provide defence and security. National interests will be protected, but so, too, will be sea lanes in the region and beyond.