Wandering China

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

China’s first aircraft carrier: From Russia with love [Guardian]

This is something China has wanted for a long time. China’s first aircraft carrier (yet to be named) – the former Soviet-era vessel Varyag has been refurbished and ready for sea trials. A symbol for China’s revival (or threat), it has unsurprisingly drawn mixed responses from the international community. This editorial from the Guardian suggests that the emergence of China’s first aircraft carrier is a mark of future intent for regional naval domination (it also highlights how ‘The Varyag was bought for a mere snip, $20m, by a travel agency claiming they would use it as a casino off Macau.’). On the other end, China claims this is merely a training ship that serves to be a model for future carriers. Its central argument is one of parity and for national defence of its growing socio-economic obligations – that if other powers have access to such ‘symbolic’ hardware to protect and project their self interests, why can’t they?

For more on the Chinese side of things, check out Boon for navy, security for nation (China Daily, August 11, 2011)

– – –

China’s first aircraft carrier: From Russia with love
China has bought Russia’s Varyag for $20m and given it its first sea trials – but it won’t change the balance of power in the South China Sea
Source – Guardian, published August 11, 2011 

The history of ships is sometimes more eloquent than that of their owners. The 33,000-ton Varyag was designed as a Soviet multi-role aircraft carrier. Its sister ship the Kuznetsov survived, but by the time the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the Varyag was a white elephant marooned off a port in the Black Sea. It had not only lost its electronics, but carelessly, its country too.

Enter China as a buyer in the car boot sale for Soviet technology. The Varyag was bought for a mere snip, $20m, by a travel agency claiming they would use it as a casino off Macau. No surprise that it ended up in the hands of its real owners, the People’s Liberation Army. Yesterday the Varyag, refitted, with a new radar mast, was given its first sea-trials. One super-power bows out, and another, after an interval of 19 years, steps up.

China’s first aircraft carrier will not change the balance of naval power in the South China Sea. The PLA said they would use it for training and as a model for future carriers. But as a mark of future intent, the refurbished carrier is not lost on its immediate neighbours with whom China has a series of territorial claims, Japan and Vietnam, nor the region’s other maritime powers, the US and India. China has been thinking ahead. It has planned its naval strategy for expanding eastwards for the next 30 years. Japanese defence analysts say that by 2015 China could have built three nuclear carrier battle groups.

The next question is where China will project this force. The South China Sea is a relatively small area for three carrier battle groups. There is a territorial dispute with Japan over uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands, west of Okinawa, and a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japan coastguard boats near the islands resulted in a major diplomatic incident in September last year. These islands belong to the first island chain in the Pacific and beyond lies a continental shelf whose underwater resources are also in dispute.

Japan is not the only neighbour to be concerned by the projection of Chinese naval power. Hours after the trial began, Taiwan unveiled a missile which it pointedly described as an aircraft killer. There have been maritime incidents between Chinese and Vietnamese survey boats. Further afield, the Indian Ocean is fast becoming contested, with a string of ports constructed with Chinese help in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Chinese analysts say China is already a maritime power and needs an appropriate force like the US and British Empire had. But that is precisely the problem. All that will encourage is a regional arms race.


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, Domestic Growth, Government & Policy, Guardian, Influence, International Relations, military, Modernisation, Nationalism, Politics, Resources, Strategy, Territorial Disputes, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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