Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Crafting a suitable fleet

By Han Xudong (China Daily) Updated: 2011-08-08 07:55

China's navy needs to develop aircraft carriers to protect its growing interests and defend its marine sovereignty

A Ministry of National Defense spokesman's recent confirmation that China has almost completed fitting out an aircraft carrier intended for scientific research and training marks the country's first but crucial step toward building a navy proportional to its international status.

With the deepening of globalization and its ever-expanding openness to the outside world, China's national interests have increasingly become interconnected with that of the whole world, which poses a growing challenge to how the country can effectively maintain its national interests in the complicated international arena.

As an increasing number of domestic enterprises have pushed forward their overseas development strategy, China should establish a global strategy from the national level and include military development in that strategy. Without a powerful military, China will be incapable of realizing its global strategy, no matter how well it is designed. It should develop a military proportional to its expanding overseas interests and its growing presence across the globe. As a key step toward this target, the country should establish a fleet of aircraft carriers.

Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Britain, Japan, the erstwhile Soviet Union and the United States all developed into world powers by developing their military. And all of these powers focused their military development on the establishment of a world-class naval force.

Completely different from these powers, China has chosen a peaceful development path. However, with the extending of its economic presence across the world, China's weakness, caused by its failure to simultaneously develop its military forces, is clear. How to use its military forces to protect its extended overseas economic interests presents the country with a growing challenge. Possessing some modern aircraft carriers, will effectively help China realize this end and help build-up a world-class navy.

The recent announcement by the Ministry of National Defense marks China's first crucial step toward developing a navy of world influence. But the country should not pause its naval development with possession of just one aircraft carrier. With its maritime interests in nearly 3 million square kilometers of waters and maritime disputes plaguing its ties with neighboring nations, one aircraft carrier alone will not be enough to safeguard China's marine rights and interests.

The country's ever-rising international status also calls for the establishment of a proportionate naval force to help the country undertake its deserved role in global affairs.

China began to take steps toward developing its navy in the 1980s. It dispatched a fleet of naval vessels to visit South Asian nations and then sent it on a global navigation voyage. Since the end of the Cold War, especially since the onset of the 21st Century, China has shown progress in developing its navy, as indicated by a number of its joint maritime drills with other countries, its dispatch of naval vessels to international operations in the Gulf of Aden to fight pirates as well as its dispatch of large-scale naval medical fleets to Asian and African countries. All these activities have drawn growing attention from the international community and considerably boosted its status in the world's naval club.

However, its increasing overseas activities and presence have also exposed China's gap with world's advanced naval forces. China's naval force is still disproportionate to its political and economic status.

The lack of deep-sea combat capability cannot meet China's need to safeguard its maritime rights and interests in the East and South China seas.

The development of an aircraft carrier-led naval force and participating in international naval activities remains the only way for China's navy to modernize and develop into a world-class force.

The author is a professor with the People's Liberation Army's University of National Defense. The article first appeared in Outlook magazine.

(China Daily 08/08/2011 page8)

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