Opinion / Chris Peterson

China joins exclusive carrier club as its navy grows

By Chris Peterson (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-01-08 07:54

I think my fascination with all things naval, and specifically aircraft carriers, began with my dad. He left school at the age of 14 and became a Boy Seaman at HMS Ganges, a training establishment in eastern England for junior Royal Navy Ratings.

As a kid I loved to hear him talk about his time at sea before the Second World War - I still have his navy handbooks .

But over the years, it was the aircraft carrier that grabbed my attention. They are virtual floating cities, with their own escort of warships and the ability to go anywhere to launch aircraft and helicopters at will.

One of the high points of my career was landing, in an aircraft, on a carrier. But that's another story - don't worry, I was a passenger, not the pilot.

If as a country you want to project power, the carrier for many is the way to go.

Now China is joining that fairly exclusive club, with the announcement that it is, for the first time, building a carrier to its own design, working from lessons learned with its first foray into carrier power projection, the Liaoning, a 67,500 ton former Soviet carrier which was 70 percent completed and lying in Ukraine when China acquired it and effectively rebuilt it.

China joins exclusive carrier club as its navy grows

Now, according to the People's Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, construction of the country's first indigenous carrier is well under way in Dalian, and it will be able to operate China's own-design J-15 fighters and other aircraft. More carriers, I suspect, are planned.

So what will China do with its new blue-water naval ability? (For the record, a blue water navy is the maritime equivalent of being able to reach far from one's own shores, unlike the coastal capability that most nations maintain.)

According to Senior Captain Zhang Junshe of the PLAN Military Studies Research Institute, China's new carriers will be used to maintain national interests, deliver humanitarian aid and run combat patrols.

In other words, just what other members of the international carrier club do with their behemoths.

The US has 19 carriers, of which 10 are nuclear-powered. They roam the seas, a symbol of American power.

I for one welcome China's entry into the carrier club, because I believe it balances to an extent the powers that exist on the world's oceans.

Let's take an example - China now has a small naval facility in the east African country of Djibouti so that its warships, which are part of the UN anti-piracy operation, can refuel and carry out basic maintenance.

There's also another important factor - someone's going to have to take care of security for the maritime section of the new Silk Route, part of China's Belt and Road Initiative in which so much money is being invested.

The route will link China with Europe, and it would make eminent sense for China's carriers to take on that role.

France already has a nuclear-powered carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, on active service and the UK is rejoining the club with two of the biggest warships it has ever built - the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, both conventionally-powered and weighing in at 70,600 tons, will enter service between this year and 2020.

So welcome to the club, China.

The author is managing editor of China Daily Europe, based in London. Contact the writer at


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