Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

China needs aircraft carriers

By Wang Baokun (China Daily) Updated: 2011-07-15 07:38

China needs aircraft carriers

Aircraft carriers have become an integral part of a good navy. In fact, a navy is not considered good enough if it does not have aircraft carriers.

No wonder, the United States plans to build 10 Gerard Ford-class aircraft carriers, which can serve up to 50 years and replace 10 commissioned ships. The US will commission the first Ford-class carrier in 2014 and the last in 2048, which will help it maintain its dominance in oceans.

In comparison, China still lacks some major weaponry such as long-range strategic bombers, heavy transport aircraft and aircraft carriers. The country is still waiting for its first aircraft carrier to turn its naval defense capability from green water to blue water.

Given the circumstances, China should develop aircraft carriers in three stages: revamped and self-constructed medium-sized conventional aircraft carriers, self-developed nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and self-developed giant nuclear-powered vessels. The country urgently needs its first carrier to increase its combat effectiveness.

China, however, should develop its aircraft carrier fleet in accordance with the defensive nature of its national defense policy. Since China is still a developing country, it should continue giving priority to economic development and deepening its reform and opening-up policies. After all, it needs long-term stability and a peaceful environment for economic development to maintain its defensive defense policy.

Aircraft carriers are essential for China primarily to defend its territory and territorial waters and bring a semblance of parity among the world's big powers. Though some people try to use China's quest for an aircraft carrier to justify their "China threat theory", the truth is that China has never used and will never use its military power for expansionary purposes.

History show that despite being perhaps the world's strongest naval power in the 15th century, China never invaded another country. Instead, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) government sent Zheng He on seven naval expeditions from 1405 to 1433 to places such as Arabia, Brunei, East Africa, India, the Malay Archipelago and Thailand to boost friendly exchanges.

Zheng He's truly friendly and commercial voyages were in sharp contrast to his European counterparts' adventures to colonize countries about half a century later.

Contrary to general fears, China needs aircraft carriers because they are important for cooperation as well as a counterbalancing force among the big powers. China is the only permanent United Nations Security Council member that has no aircraft carrier. Even some of the non-Security Council members have them. This has left China at a strategic disadvantage.

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