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China’s First Aircraft Carrier: A Milestone

By Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan

Most recently, China started exercises of its first aircraft carrier “Shi Lang” (larger than the French carrier Charles de Gaulle) in Dalian, with national pride which faced mixed regional reactions and international criticism/concerns. Right form the first day Chinese government claimed its increasingly naval power as defensive purposes but regional political scientists prorogated it as paradigm shift in regional security arena, heavily
dependent of waters.

Although, the Chinese aircraft carrier now the largest warship (300 meters long and displacing over 67,000 tons, accompanied 1,900 crewmen and 52 aircraft.) of any country in Asia which could give China strategic edge over others but it should not be any sign of militarism, conflict, confrontation and fear among the regional countries because throughout all cataclysm and havocs in its past and recent history, China always upholds its good neighbor policy.

The opponents of the China have strong conviction that China first aircraft would shift the balance of power in the South China Sea in favour of China. Beijing has had territorial disputes with Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei but it has always been restrained from using military power to dictate its terms. It always pursues the path of diplomacy, dialogue and determination to resolve the conflicts and moreover terms of engagement have been peaceful. The Chinese genuine claim over Borneo Island, Spratly and Paracel Island situated in South China Sea endorses its maritime rights and are not making regional countries uncomfortable which are supposedly rich in oil and gas resources. It is predicted that China’s new aircraft carrier at Sanya on Hainan Island, could easily keep its air superiority over others at any point in the future.

China has been building new submarines, ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernization But China did not want to annoy its neighbors with the carrier debut. China shifted its naval strategy from defending its territorial waters to “defending the open seas” and is seeking to expand its strategic sphere to the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Chinese defence officials claim that the new carrier is specifically built for scientific research and training but regional naval strategists take it as China’s strategic dominance. Chinese government said that its first aircraft carrier is a necessary step, and an inevitable choice for the country to safeguard its increasingly globalized national interests. The carrier is hugely popular in China, where it has been publicized as a symbol of the country’s transformation.

The China is a peace loving country which pursues justice. Right from its inception, peaceful development has been the strategic mantra of every Chinese government. China never tried to follow hegemony and never resorted to military expansion or arms race. Major General Qian Lihua, director of the Defense Ministry’s foreign affairs office, stated, “Unlike another country, we will not use a carrier to pursue global deployment or global reach.”

China has had been rigorously pursuing its good neighbors policy. It considers improving relations with ASEAN an important strategic task. China has built up a strategic partnership with the 10-member ASEAN since 2003, and also with some of its members, one after another. Throughout its national history, China has always been considering its neighbors as partners of socio-economic prosperity and regional stability.

In April 2011 at the Bo’ao Asia Forum, Chinese President Hu Jintao said that to build a harmonious Asia, countries needed to respect the diversity of civilizations and promote neighborly relations. Hu’s reassured that for “now and in the future, China would never seek hegemony, nor would it turn to military expansion or arms races with other nations and China’s professed policy of noninterference in the affairs of other states would be enacted.

Immediately it will give sense of pride and prestige. It will reduce the difficulties of defending Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. It will safeguard the country’s maritime interests as well as the capability to participate in international maritime joint operations, such as salvage, counterterrorism and piracy crackdowns.

Being the second largest economy of the world and one of the important countries in the region, China badly needs a strong naval army. It has the every right to have an aircraft carrier, and the efforts to achieve this will not harm any other country, nor will it pose any security threat to other regional countries.

China faces a complicated security situation in and around its borders and having an aircraft carrier is necessary for it to safeguard its national sovereignty and genuine claims over territorial waters and maritime interests and to practice its international obligations. It is hoped that the first aircraft carrier will provide China strategic edge and options to safeguard its national interests. China shares borders with 14 countries and has one of the largest coastlines in the world and its combined maritime interests are part and parcel for its foreign policy. China follows the ancient saying “if the ruler wants the country to be rich and strong, he can by no means ignore the sea where both wealth and danger come from.

The series of misadventures of the predators forced China to sign over 700 unequal treaties with big powers of that time. The “Opium War” and the “Sino-Japanese War” of 1894-1895 produced serious dints in its national policy of survival. Afterwards, China’s fiercely combats with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, all strongly demanded to have an operational aircraft carrier. So, having an operational aircraft carrier is a rational decision of China. Moreover, it’ is a symbol of deterrence’.

Shi Lang, China’s first aircraft carrier is the symbol of national pride and guarantor of its waters in the region. It fortifies its strategic deterrence. It is custodian of its naval strategies. It provides ample opportunities to Beijing for further advancement in the indigenous production of aircraft carrier. It assures the easy and smooth supplies of energy. It protects its commercial interests, investments around the globe and the last but not the least gives sense of security to its overseas citizens. It accelerates humanitarian assistance efforts and combats against terrorism.

It broadens strategic options in the times of peace and war. China is currently the only country without an operational aircraft carrier among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and it is hoped that its first aircraft carrier would be instrumental for its national priorities.

It further strengthens its internal and external defence shield. It cements its regional maritime activities and global reach. Notwithstanding, its first aircraft carrier does not threat to any regional country because Beijing has been following the good neighbors policy since its independence. Its foreign policy has been carried on the doctrines of dialogue, diplomacy and development.

It upholds prophecies of peaceful development, co-existence and self-restrain. China did not try to follow hegemony and never resorted to military expansion or arms race. It has been active advocate of regional socio-economic prosperity and stability and its ever increasing ties with the 10-member ASEAN verify its peaceful efforts.

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