Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Chinese carrier ‘a symbolic threat’ [The Age]

Is this ‘threat’ symbolic enough to be a catalyst for another form of Cold-War era game theory standoff with the U.S.? China has been ceaselessly accumulating soft power; it looks like hard power is equally important to them – an aircraft carrier projects a larger operating theatre and military influence, and for once the Chinese can project their strike ability beyond just regionally with what they deem ‘aircraft mother ships’. That says a lot.

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Chinese carrier ‘a symbolic threat’
Viola Gienger and Tony Capaccio
Source – The Age, published April 13, 2011

Former Soviet-era aircraft carrier Varyag being refurbished by China. Photo – The Age

China’s reconstruction of a Soviet-era aircraft carrier, while not a concern to the US, is raising alarms in the region as a symbol of the Asian nation’s military expansion, US Navy Admiral Robert Willard says.

China’s state news agency, Xinhua, posted photos of the carrier, the Varyag, on a website last week. In a photo caption, Xinhua cited the military analysis magazine Kanwa Asian Defense Review in Canada as saying the ship will set sail this year. The timeline tracks with an estimate made two years ago by the US Office of Naval Intelligence.

Willard, the top US military commander in the Asia-Pacific region, said he was “not concerned” by the project. The carrier sat pier-side for years as China considered making it a tourist attraction before the reconstruction began, Admiral Willard said.

“We do expect that they will achieve what they are asserting, which is that perhaps this year it may go to sea,” Admiral Willard, who heads the US Pacific Command, said. “That’s a long way from developing an aircraft carrier capability.”

Still, China’s overall military expansion magnifies the symbolic effect, Admiral Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing yesterday.

“Based on the feedback that we received from our partners and allies in the Pacific, I think the change in perception by the region will be significant,” he said.

Chinese leaders have talked for decades of plans to acquire what they call “aircraft mother ships” as part of their military modernisation.

Such a fleet would expand China’s power in the region and enhance its influence in territorial disputes with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The US expects that China, the world’s second-biggest economy, will try to build its own carrier at some point, Admiral Willard said.

“This is a significant choice that they’re making to develop an aircraft carrier capability,” said Admiral Willard, 60, whose command is based in Hawaii and covers 36 nations and about half the earth’s surface.

“This is their first refit of a boat to give them the very beginning of that, so we’ll watch over it with interest.”
The refurbished aircraft carrier may serve as a test-and-evaluation platform. There must be “a long period of training and development and eventual exercising preceding any operational capability,” Willard told the committee.

“There’s a lot that goes into aircraft carrier operations,” Admiral Willard said. “We would expect that at some point in time, they’ll attempt to marry some semblance of an air wing to it.”

The Obama administration has pushed for more openness from China, the biggest foreign holder of US Treasuries, over its military intentions, especially as it develops the capacity to restrict US access to sea lanes.

“What we are striving to do is develop a constructive partner in China,” Admiral Willard said.

Still, “they have developed a ballistic missile capability” and “most of those missiles are aimed in the direction of Taiwan. That is very formidable”.

The missile inventory has the capability to reach allies and “has the region concerned,” he said.

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in its 2010 report that China’s non-nuclear missiles have “the capability to attack” and close down five of six major U.S. Air Force bases in South Korea and Japan.



Filed under: Aviation, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Domestic Growth, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, military, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Strategy, Technology, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S., Varyag

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