China has an aircraft carrier -- and it's making a lot of people nervous
24th Feb 2014
China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (PLAN CV-16.
China has an aircraft carrier -- and it's making a lot of people nervous. In fact, depending on whom you believe, China may be well on its way to building a second aircraft carrier. Or a third. Or even a fourth.
Over the weekend, DefenseNews.com reported that construction of a sister ship to China's Liaoning (PLAN CV-16) carrier has definitely begun. Liaoning Provincial Communist Party Secretary Wang Min told delegates to the 12th Provincial People's Congress last week that China's second aircraft carrier is now under construction in the port city of Dalian. According to the South China Morning Post, China aims to complete the carrier by 2018. With China's military budget having tripled over the past decade, plans are in place to arm the People's Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, with as many as four aircraft carriers by 2020.
According to Richard Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, China could begin work on its third aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan-Changxin shipyard in Shanghai "very soon."
This, says DefenseNews, has experts "wary" over China's intentions. But what are these intentions, exactly?
Crisis and opportunity
There are three possible scenarios to describe China's sudden interest in joining the world's aircraft-carrier club. And while some of these scenarios might worry some people, when viewed in the most positive light, each scenario also offers us reasons to be optimistic, and to welcome China's aircraft-carrying ambitions.
Scenario No. 1: China as global superpower
Under the first scenario, China's desire to build aircraft carriers, plural, suggests a desire to assume global superpower status -- to challenge the U.S. for supremacy of the seas.
Maybe that's their aim. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission member Larry Wortzel, for one, sees China's carrier-building activities as proof positive that "the PLA and the party are serious about operating carrier battle groups in the near and far seas by about 2020."
Yet according to Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao newspaper, PLAN Senior Capt. Li Jie says China's new carriers will be only "medium-sized" vessels "of about 53,000 tons displacement" -- smaller even than the Liaoning. Placed side-by-side with the class of new 100,000-ton Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers that America is building, China's mini-carriers would seem veritable bathtub toys, half the size of the Ford class, and carrying only one-third the fighter aircraft. That hardly sounds like a threat.