BEIJING, April 8 -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel became the first foreigner to visit China's only aircraft carrier Liaoning on Monday. It was a genuine gesture showing China's transparency, and its growing confidence.
Carriers have always boasted a symbolic standing in not only military but also a nation's comprehensive strength. The Liaoning was developed based on a Soviet-made warship that was sold to China by Ukraine. It was delivered to the navy in 2012.
The commissioning of Liaoning meant China achieved its dream of having an aircraft carrier, as the country had been bullied by western powers due to its lack of a powerful navy. By opening up the Liaoning, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) showed great sincerity to its U.S. counterpart.
Little news used to come out of the PLA. However, as Chinese authorities seek a more transparent image, the army has also made efforts in this area.
Hagel's tour was only one of many strides China has taken to assure the international community of its good faith in defense, which includes regular publication of national defense white papers, publicity of once classified code designations of the 18 army groups, and the appointment of spokespersons.
From another point of view, there is nothing to hide from the world's only superpower. Liaoning is a medium-sized conventionally powered aircraft carrier, which lags far behind the larger, more advanced and nuclear-powered U.S. Nimitz Class carriers, let alone the latest Gerald Ford Class.
The confidence of China comes not from the buildup of its arsenal, but from the understanding of its role as a developing country and its peaceful development path, which begs a defense policy with a defensive nature.
But China's grace should not be taken for granted and its concerns should be addressed.
Hagel on Tuesday pointed to cyber security as an example of an area where the U.S. would like China to be more transparent. That is in fact where the U.S. owes China an explanation, as the U.S. had been reported to have penetrated the cyber networks of Chinese government assets and private telecommunications equipment maker Huawei.
Hagel is also expected to talk about issues that are of great importance to China, such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea, where the country's core interests in safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity seems, to put modestly, insufficiently appreciated by the United States.
Just prior to his China visit, Hagel announced that the U.S. would forward-deploy two additional Aegis ballistic missile defense ships to Japan, whose government infringed on China's territories that have led to an all-time low in bilateral ties.
As a mutually beneficial relationship goes, the burden of transparency is not on China alone.