What China Says About Its New Aircraft Carrier

China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier Wednesday morning at a grand ceremony, with navy officers and military supporters hailing the country's military achievement.

At 9:20 am, six tugboats started to pull the Type 001A carrier out of the dock where it has been under construction in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, amid the applause and cheers of hundreds of military enthusiasts who came from Dalian and other places to witness the event.

The carrier then docked at the outfitting quay.

It's the country's second carrier after the Liaoning, and is expected to be commissioned before 2020.

The launch ceremony included the playing of the national anthem, ribbon-cutting, the breaking of a champagne bottle on the bow, and nearby ships blowing their steam whistles.

Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, as well as officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy attended the ceremony.

A 28-year-old military enthusiast surnamed Gao from Beijing told the Global Times that "In the past, when the US has a problem overseas, its president could ask his team, 'Where are our carriers?' Now, China has entered the dual-carrier era, and our leaders will soon be able to ask the same question when we have a problem overseas."

China's first carrier, the Liaoning, is a refitted former Soviet Union-era carrier that was commissioned by the PLA navy in 2012. Construction on the Type 001A began in November 2013.

The Liaoning was mainly built for tests and training, while the Type 001A is being built for combat, said Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert.

The new aircraft carrier's main structure has been completed, with equipment of major systems, including propulsion and electricity, installed. Putting the carrier into the water marks progress in China's efforts to design and build a domestic aircraft carrier. The new carrier will undergo equipment debugging, outfitting and comprehensive mooring trials.

Li told the Global Times that the Type 001A would be more advanced than the Liaoning.

"Although the design is similar to the Liaoning, it will be an improvement on the old-school Soviet designs, and China's most developed phased array radar system will be installed. It can carry more than 30 fighter jets, which is at least 30 percent better than the Liaoning."

China will build more aircraft carriers with more sophisticated technology, and will someday build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with an Electromagnetic Catapult System, Li said. But we need to start from the basics and enhance the development of carriers step by step, he said.

China doesn't need 10 carriers like the US, because it doesn't have a global hegemonic strategy, so six carriers would be enough, said Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

Not meant for Taiwan

The name of the new vessel has yet to be announced. In a survey conducted by news portal ifeng about "what name should be iven to the new carrier," "Taiwan" emerged as the most popular choice among the respondents, followed by "Shandong."

Many Chinese Net users said they hope that "the carrier would contribute to the unification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait."

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said Wednesday he was proud of the great achievement made by the country in modernizing the country's national defense and the military.

"[The launch of the new carrier] will help strengthen our capability to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity, as well as major and core interests," Ma said.

On January 12, the Liaoning and several other PLA navy vessels navigated through the Taiwan Strait, with many observers saying it was a message to the Taiwan administration.

However, military expert Song Zhongping, who used to serve in the PLA Rocket Force, said the new aircraft carrier is not being made to target Taiwan.

"Although our aircraft carriers can strengthen our military power if we have to solve the Taiwan Question by force, there are more important missions in the open seas, including preparing for potential military conflicts in the South China Sea and guarding the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in the Indian Ocean," he said.

Taiwan is too close to the Chinese mainland, so we don't really need an aircraft carrier to extend the combat radius of our aircraft, Li said.

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The launch on Wednesday of China's first totally home-built aircraft carrier marks a major step forward for its military modernization, and highlights the technical progress the country has made over the past several decades.

The carrier, which is expected to enter service in 2020, is the country's second. Its first was bought secondhand and refitted, and is now used for training purposes.

However, it would be wrong, or ill-intentioned, to perceive the new vessel as evidence of the "China threat" so beloved of some.

As it has integrated more closely with the rest of the world, the interests that China has beyond its borders have grown commensurately. Building a strong defense capability with a widespread global reach is now necessary to protect China's businesses and the massive interests that arise from them.

Also despite its growing overseas interests, China's top priority remains national rejuvenation and its most important task is still domestic development. Its defense policies are therefore first and foremost aimed at ensuring a peaceful external environment and providing a security guarantee for its own economic development and social progress.

To safeguard its national security, territorial integrity and development interests, China is therefore committed to meeting the strategic requirement of defending offshore waters and protecting open seas, and building a multi-functional and efficient navy.

Aircraft carriers are the proven way to accomplish these tasks.

If anything, China is late in joining the club of nations that have aircraft carriers. The world's second-largest economy is the last among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council whose navies have carrier groups. Even its Asian neighbors, India and Thailand, have had aircraft carriers in service for several decades.

And China's long-delayed deployment of an aircraft carrier lies in sharp contrast with the increasing role that it is playing in international affairs.

Its navy has joined in multinational anti-piracy patrols off Somalia since 2008, escorting thousands of foreign and Chinese cargo ships through the risky waters. China is also the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, with more than 2,400 peacekeeping personnel in service worldwide.

An advanced navy equipped with aircraft carriers will definitely help the nation better fulfill its international responsibilities.

Criticizing China for adding aircraft carriers to its naval capabilities simply raises the question of why it should be a concern to those questioning an action that is long overdue.

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