The truth about aircraft carrier
Headlines like “China building second aircraft carrier” were recently splashed by some Western media outlets even after the Ministry of Defense spokesman called the speculation “inaccurate”. This is nothing new. The Western media have always viewed China’s defense system with suspicion.
China should ignore such tricks and continue to modernize its navy at the needed pace and decide on how many aircraft carriers it needs after taking into account all the necessary factors, including its national defense policy, strategic needs and economic capacity.
Nine countries have aircraft carriers. The United States, which has by far the largest fleet of aircraft carriers, plans to deploy six of them in the Pacific and four in the Atlantic. Russia has only one but is planning to build more, and the United Kingdom is building two Queen-Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers which could begin sea trials in 2017.
Even Italy has two aircraft carriers, and India recently bought its second from Russia, with its first indigenously built aircraft carrier being in the works. This shows that having two or more aircraft carriers is normal for a regional or global power.
China has a total coastline of 18,000 kilometers and more than 3 million square km of sea area under its jurisdiction, and as one of the five permanent members of United Nations Security Council, it has to shoulder global responsibilities. So a second aircraft carrier will not be beyond its requirement.
In fact, China needs two, if not more, aircraft carriers to strengthen its sea power and allow the People’s Liberation Army Navy to better defend its sovereignty and national security.
Japan, with its rising tendency of remilitarization, already has two Hy ga-class vessels, which the Western media call “aircraft carriers in disguise” because they can carry 20 helicopters each. Given Japan’s militarist past, China and other Asian countries should especially be on guard because the Hy ga-class vessels can be easily turned into aircraft carriers during an armed conflict.
The development of the Chinese navy, however, is not targeted at any particular country; it is aimed at strengthening China’s maritime capability to defend the country against invasions from the sea. Hence, having two or more aircraft carriers will not alter China’s defensive defense policy.
A country’s strategy and policies, not the weapons it possesses, decides whether it is an aggressive or defensive power. China has always emphasized that it will stick to a defensive defense policy, and aircraft carriers will only strengthen its defense capability.
Moreover, as a rising power, China can better shoulder its international maritime responsibilities if its navy is well equipped. After some major natural disasters that hit the Asia-Pacific region, especially the tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011 and the typhoon that caused havoc in the Philippines in November 2013, US aircraft carriers played a vital role in the rescue and relief operations. Since some ports and airports were destroyed in the disaster-hit countries, helicopters taking off from the decks of aircraft carriers were able to carry professional aid groups and essentials to the people most in need. Aircraft carriers will allow China, too, to play such a role in the future.
Some people have raised questions about China’s military expenditure and the possible effect of commissioning another aircraft carrier in the navy on its economy. According to the latest statistics, China’s GDP reached 56.88 trillion yuan ($9.3 trillion) in 2013, which means it can afford the economic cost of having a second aircraft carrier. Besides, China is not entering a military race and it will not build an aircraft carrier in a day.
Even if China wants to build a second aircraft carrier, it won’t be a big burden on the national economy. On the contrary, China could use the opportunity to develop its high-tech industries, because building an aircraft carrier involves advanced technologies like standard wind tunnels and high-speed computers, which can be applied to civil use. Experience shows that big projects like building an aircraft carrier always necessitate innovations in technology, which can be used to improve the lives of Chinese people.
All this makes it clear that some media outlets are playing up the “China threat” theory by sensationalizing the speculation about China’s second aircraft carrier, which is an old trick trying to fool international public opinion. Zhang Junshe is deputy head of the Naval Research Institute of the People’s Liberation Army. The article is an excerpt of his interview with China Daily’s Zhang Zhouxiang.