Now it’s finally official!
China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) has announced on its official website that on the morning of 25 September China’s first aircraft carrier, “Liaoning,” was handed over to the PLA Navy (PLAN).
According to MND, Liaoning will have important significance for raising the Chinese Navy’s level of integrated combat force modernization, strengthening defensive operational capabilities, developing Far Seas cooperation and capabilities to deal with non-traditional security threats, effectively safeguarding national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and promoting world peace and common development.
This important landmark in Chinese naval development is attracting widespread attention at home and abroad. It officially ends China’s status as the last permanent member of the UN Security Council not to have an aircraft carrier–a milestone long awaited by Chinese officials, media sources, and bloggers alike. Just as a newly-wed couple wants a “starter home,” a newly rising great power wants a “starter carrier.” While PLAN acceptance of this “starter carrier” is the first step in a long journey, it is a journey that will take place in full view of the world, and one that will ultimately take Beijing to a new place as a great sea power.
A Dream of Eighty Years Realized…
China’s own aircraft dream has taken eight decades to realize. In 1928, the commander of China’s British-trained navy, Chen Shaokuan, submitted a proposal that an aircraft carrier be obtained to the Guomindang government, which rejected it the following year. Through 1945 Chen made two more detailed requests, but wartime conditions precluded their acceptance and implementation. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, Premier Zhou Enlai and the first PLAN commander, Xiao Jinguang, supported aircraft-carrier development. In 1958 Chairman Mao Zedong declared ambitiously, “We must go in for the shipbuilding industry in a big way, build large numbers of ships, and build ‘railroads’ at sea for the purpose of building a mighty maritime combat force in years to come.” Premier Zhou told foreign guests on 25 Oct0ber 1973: “Our Nansha and Xisha Islands are occupied by the Republic of Vietnam [South Vietnam]; without an aircraft carrier, we cannot put China’s navy at risk fighting. I’ve been involved in military affairs and politics all my life, and up to this time haven’t seen a Chinese aircraft carrier. I am not resigned to not seeing an aircraft carrier!”
Late in 2010, Admiral Liu Huaqing, PLAN commander (1982–88) and the father of China’s modern navy, passed away. Liu had sought to build China’s navy first into a “green water” force and thereafter, eventually, into a “blue water” navy capable of projecting power regionally, though not globally. The key to the realization of Liu’s vision was an aircraft carrier, and Liu reportedly vowed in 1987, “I will not die with my eyes closed if I do not see a Chinese aircraft carrier in front of me.” Admiral Liu’s eyes can close now, as a long-held Chinese dream has finally come to fruition.
…Through a Fourteen-Year Saga
Liaoning has been over a decade in the making. Beijing’s long march toward aircraft carrier status began in earnest in 1998, when China’s Chong Lot Travel Agency purchased from Ukraine the unfinished hull of the former Soviet carrier Varyag and twenty tons of blueprints for U.S. $20 million. One and a half years of Sino-Turkish negotiations were required to persuade Ankara to allow Varyag to transit the Bosphorus. In 2001 the hull was finally towed through the Bosphorus, out the Strait of Gibraltar, around the Cape of Good Hope, and through the Malacca Strait. Varyag’s two year and eight month, 15,200-nautical mile storm-ridden voyage finally ended in Dalian on March 3, 2002, where it was subsequently outfitted. The carrier subsequently underwent a series of pre-delivery tests and modifications by Dalian Naval Shipyard and China’s defense industry. These included its maiden voyage from 10-14 August 2011 and nine subsequent sea trials in the Bohai Gulf.
来源：国防部网 作者： 时间：2012-09-25 11:22:22
For further background on Chinese aircraft carrier development, see also:
Explanation of naming in Andrew S. Erickson, “China Will Name its First Aircraft Carrier ex-Varyag “Liaoning”: PRC State Media Portal,” China Analysis from Original Sources, 10 September 2012.
Overall analysis offered in Andrew S. Erickson, Abraham M. Denmark, and Gabriel Collins, “Beijing’s ‘Starter Carrier’ and Future Steps: Alternatives and Implications,” Naval War College Review 65.1 (Winter 2012): 14-54.
Coverage of the ex-Varyag’s sea trials offered in Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “China Realizes Carrier Dream,” The Diplomat, 10 August 2011.
The longer report on which that post is based is Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China’s ‘Starter Carrier’ Goes to Sea,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 43 (9 August 2011).
An early assessment of the larger implications of China’s deck aviation development offered in 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.
Relevant defense industrial factors discussed in Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “LNG Carriers to Aircraft Carriers? Assessing the potential for crossover between civilian and military shipbuilding in China,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 12 (18 December 2010).
For analysis on aircraft that may eventually fly off China’s aircraft carrier, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “‘Flying Shark’ Gaining Altitude: How might new J-15 strike fighter improve China’s maritime air warfare ability?,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 38 (8 June 2011).
For related analysis on drivers and constraints concerning Chinese deck aviation, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “The ‘Flying Shark’ Prepares to Roam the Seas: Strategic pros and cons of China’s aircraft carrier program,” China SignPost™(洞察中国) 35 (18 May 2011).