China requires strong navy to help protect its global interests
The nation has increasing responsibilities towards peace and economic growth, and that is something the world should welcome, not worry about
The start of sea trials for China’s first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier marks a new stage in the country’s rise as a naval power. The 50,000-tonne vessel boasts industrial capability, technological know-how and the emergence of the nation as a world power.
Those are matters of concern for Asian neighbours and the United States, which worry about Chinese intentions. But those who voice fears are ignoring interests that need protecting, among them maritime boundaries, countries that are part of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, citizens overseas, shipping and investments.
Indigenous shipbuilding is a learning process and the as yet unnamed vessel makes marked advances on the Liaoning, the nation’s first carrier, which was bought from Ukraine and fitted out for training and combat.
Although having a similar design and displacement, the new carrier has been modified and is longer and wider, enabling it to carry about a dozen more J-15 fighters. But while radar and electronics have been improved, it still has conventionally powered engines, limiting range and speed.
Despite that, in development terms, it is a significant leap forward and a third carrier, presently under construction, is likely to be of the latest generation and nuclear-powered.
Such achievements are in keeping with the aspirations of President Xi Jinping who, during the largest ever review of the navy off Hainan last month, called for the building of a first-class maritime force. He said notable progress had been made and the navy “stood up in the East” with a new image. Photographs of the 48 vessels, 76 aircraft and more than 10,000 service personnel certainly showed how far modernisation plans have come.
A sailing immediately after of the Liaoning battle group through the Taiwan Strait sent a message to independence-minded Taiwanese and governments with territorial disputes with China that the nation was willing and able to protect its sovereignty and interests.
The US may not be so worried; it has 11 nuclear-powered carriers. They service a network of American naval bases around the world, ensuring the nation’s global reach and superpower status.
But China, as the second-biggest economy, increasingly also needs to look beyond its shores to protect its interests. For now, its resources are barely adequate, with a single overseas port in Djibouti and two carriers, the latest of which is expected to be commissioned in 2020.
In keeping with China’s rise, the nation has increasing responsibilities towards global peace and economic growth. A strong navy is essential to maintaining obligations. That is a matter other nations should welcome, not fret about.