27 June 2011

Should We Be Afraid of China’s New Aircraft Carrier? Not yet.

Our Overall Thoughts: China’s ‘Starter Carrier’

A newly-wed couple wants a ‘starter home,’ a new great power wants a ‘starter carrier.’ Before foreign strategists start hyperventilating about the “beginning of the end,” a deep breath is needed. China’s ‘starter carrier’ is of very limited military utility, and will primarily serve to confer prestige on a rising great power, help the military master basic procedures, and to project a bit of power. This isn’t the beginning of the end; it’s the end of the beginning.

(This text is not included in the below Foreign Policy article.)

Published Article:

Abraham M. Denmark, Andrew S. Erickson, and Gabriel Collins, Should We Be Afraid of China’s New Aircraft Carrier? Not yet.,” Foreign Policy, 27 June 2011.

Six months ago, Gen. Liu Huaqing — the father of China’s modern navy and its commander from 1982 to 1988 (and, according to the state-run People’s Daily, “a distinguished member of the CPC, a seasoned loyal Communist fighter, an outstanding proletarian revolutionist, politician and strategist, and an excellent leader of the Party, the state and the military”) — passed away. Liu sought to build China’s navy first into a “green water” fleet and, eventually, into a full-fledged “blue water” navy capable of projecting power over vast distances. Key to realizing Liu’s vision was an aircraft carrier, and Liu reportedly vowed: “I will not die with my eyes closed if I do not see a Chinese aircraft carrier in front of me.”

While Liu may have died with his eyes open, they can close now. From the harbor at Dalian naval shipyard in northeast China, the first aircraft carrier of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will soon set sail for the first time. And much of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the Asia-watching strategic community in the United States, is hotly debating the implications of this move. …