Some Western media outlets continue to sensationalize news about China's navy. Now they are claiming that "China's aircraft carrier is set to sail this summer". By making such carping comments, some Western observers are trying to distort China's strategic intentions and orientation, and smear its image in the international community. Therefore, it is necessary to clarify matters and help the world better understand China.
An aircraft carrier is a mobile airbase on sea that can allow a navy to carry out various military, political and diplomatic missions across the world. World War II saw the first large-scale use of aircraft carriers, which played a decisive role when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and in the Battle of Midway between the United States Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy. Aircraft carriers have replaced battleships as the backbone of modern seafaring fleets since then. During the Cold War, carrier strike groups had become a major weaponry platform for the US and the former Soviet Union in their contention for maritime hegemony.
After the end of the Cold War, the US has been maintaining 12 carrier strike groups. And even without any increase in number, the comprehensive combat capability of one US carrier strike group is now equivalent to that of six groups during the Gulf War in the 1990s. This is because of the technological advancement of the whole combat platform, upgrade of carrier-based aircraft and promotion of the US' network-centric warfare.
Aircraft carriers are crucial for the US to maintain its global dominance. Whenever and wherever an international crisis breaks out, the first thing a US president does is to ask where his aircraft carriers are. Whenever there is a sign of disturbance in some part of the world, the US sends one or several aircraft carriers for deterrence or military operations. If possessing aircraft carriers means posing a military threat to other countries then the US should be the world's largest military threat.
Besides, no matter China has an aircraft carrier or not, its military will still lag far behind the US, which is by far the world's biggest military power.
China is a land-sea power with a very long coastline and maritime rights and interests. It thus needs a strong navy to defend itself. China has repeatedly suffered from imperialist invasions from the sea for lack of a strong navy. The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)started from scratch after the founding of the People's Republic of China. So it's natural that it continues to grow.
In accordance with the requirements of China's offshore defense strategy, the PLAN is undergoing modernization to improve its overall combat capability, strengthen its strategic deterrence and counterattack competence, cooperate on the high seas with other navies and become capable of dealing with non-traditional threats. Thanks to frequent training and increasing supply of advanced submarines, destroyers, airplanes and large-scale logistic support vessels, the PLAN has gained substantially in overall strength.
But it still does not have an aircraft carrier in service. It is not as strong as some other countries' navies, which tilts the sea power balance against China.
That's why China needs to develop its navy. But some Western media outlets distort its intention. China has to strengthen its navy not for overseas expansion or establish maritime hegemony, but to balance the sea power structure to better safeguard its national security and development, as well as to contribute to world peace and regional stability and prosperity.
China is the only permanent UN Security Council member not having an aircraft carrier. Some media outlets take it for granted that the US, Russia, Britain and France have to have fleets of aircraft carriers. They don't raise a hue and cry over Spain, Brazil, India and even Thailand having aircraft carriers. But when it comes to China, they use their "China threat" theory to generate a tsunami. If this is not double standard, what is?
Some Western think tanks and media outlets suspect, without reason though, that China's fast and sustained growth and growing military capability is aimed at rearranging the global strategic and geo-political framework. They falsely assume that China's economic resilience during the global financial crisis is a threat to the West. This fear psychosis prevents them from judging the issues objectively.
Given China's economic growth, it is natural for it to modernize its military. China is being no different from other countries. But its development path, foreign policy, history and culture ensure that its defense policy is and will always be defensive. Those who read too much into China's military modernization turn a blind eye to facts.
China will never veer from the road of peaceful development and global harmony. China believes in resolving disputes through non-military means, and it will not be the first to attack another country. No matter how developed China becomes, it will never try to establish hegemony, or engage in military expansion, or pursue the "gunboat policy" of some Western countries.
Territorial disputes between China and neighboring countries do exist. But China has not used and will never use military power as a bargaining chip to pressure other countries. It will always insist on resolving disputes through peaceful dialogue.
Experience shows that instead of being threatened, neighboring countries have benefited substantially from China's rise and increasing global influence in recent years.
China has sent its troops abroad either to carry out UN peacekeeping missions or escort merchant ships and UN agencies' vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia. These are China's contributions to regional and global peace, security and prosperity, not a threat to other countries.
China's fast economic growth has created opportunities for the region and the world. Similarly, its growing military strength is bound to make unprecedented contributions to regional and world peace, stability and prosperity.
The author is a rear admiral and former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the People's Liberation Army National Defense University.
(China Daily 05/05/2011 page9)