The truth about air­craft car­rier

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

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.

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