China's first aircraft carrier fills a gap in naval ranks

09:40, August 01, 2011      

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China's first aircraft carrier, the former Ukrainian Varyag, has finally been unveiled to an eager public.

The spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense announced this significant strategic achievement in a calm and low-key manner, saying it was rebuilt from an old and useless carrier, and will be used for experiment and training.

The Varyag was originally intended to serve in the Pacific Fleet of the Soviet Navy in 1993, but the disintegration of the Soviet Union scuttled those plans. The care of the Varyag soon fell on China.

In 1998, a Chinese company purchased the ship at auction at the cost of $20 million. Unexpectedly, the Turkish government denied the carrier passage through the Bosporus Strait. The Chinese government negotiated with them, and finally the Varyag came to China and started its new life.

The launch of the aircraft carrier has boosted morale and makes us believe that the Chinese people are capable of building a type of ship first constructed by the West and Japan in the 1920s.

Before the launch, China was the only member of both the UN Security Council and the BRIC nations to lack an aircraft carrier. Even some smaller countries, like Thailand, have aircraft carriers. It was a striking contrast with China's international status as a great power.

From the requirement of national security, some hegemonic powers repeatedly provoke China due to our lack of a blue-water battle platform. Therefore, we should have our own pillar of the naval defense system to warn assailants with concrete actions, instead of oral condemnations.

It is not surprising that the debut of the Chinese aircraft carrier stirred a new round of discussions on China's military threat.

However, an aircraft carrier, like a pistol, is just a tool. Whether it does good or evil depends on its owner.

The launch of the carrier is a great breakthrough and fills the gap of our navy power and boosts the ability in combined military operations. It promotes the Chinese army's integral defense system and our deterrent ability.

But China is still a long way from being a great naval power. Much still remains to be done. China's first aircraft carrier only solves our problem of having a carrier, but it is an outdated vessel that would be no match for the ships of other nations.

Our intentions are different from those of the US. China's aircraft carrier will not be used for hegemony, unlike US ships. Instead it will be used for self-defense. US carriers have seen wartime action, whereas ours will only be used for training and scientific research.

US aircraft carriers are nuclear-powered, whereas the former Varyag is oil-powered, a significant difference. US fighter planes can take off with catapult assistance, whereas ours need long runways.

US carriers also far outweigh our ship and have considerable more advanced weapons technology and other systems. Our aircraft carrier is merely averagely sized, and our technologies are still in an exploratory stage.

The five differences above have various causes. Some are due to the national characteristics and the defense policy, and some are caused by the different amounts of investment in technology development and military expenditure.

China has no intention to hold an arms race with the US and we won't strive for hegemony. We have rebuilt this aircraft carrier to protect ourselves.

There is no doubt that China will rise one day. But this task is still underway. Making China a powerful nation is the dream of generations of Chinese people, especially Chinese soldiers.

Although the way beyond will be thorny and bumpy, we will spare no efforts in achieving our dream.

The author is a Major General at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences.

Source: Global Times
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