China Toots its Horn With New Carrier


Oh, I'm sure the halls of think tanks across Washington, DC, are buzzing with the news that China has conducted sea trials of its first aircraft carrier. And the Wall Street Journal today helped fan the flames.

The vessel nonetheless sends a powerful message both to China's domestic audience, for whom a carrier has for decades been equated with national strength, and to the U.S. and its regional allies, many of whom are embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing.

It is the most potent symbol yet of China's long-term desire to develop the power both to deny U.S. naval access to Asian waters and to protect its global economic interests, including shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and oil sources in the Middle East.

Its launch is thus seen as a milestone in relations between an ascendant China, bent on reclaiming its historical role as a global power, and a debt-ridden U.S. that wants to retain the military supremacy it has wielded in Asia since 1945.

Visions of ChiComs coming over the berm are sure to seep into the increasingly hot debates over defense budgets and spending in a time of forced austerity. But hopefully some sobriety can be injected into the debate.

First of all, this is China's first carrier. The West has had at-sea aircraft for, what, more than 90 years? And this thing is gas-turbine powered with a compliment of 2,000 Sailors and aviators? The GW carries more than 6,000 and the US has 11 carriers?

Anyway, it's strange to me that China is sort of wasting its money on this token gesture. They're spending millions on ways to defeat aircraft carriers because they recognize their unique vulnerability, yet they're demonstrating a penchant for trying to match the West in power projection.

I'm sure DT readers can do a better job speculating or reading the tea leaves of this move by the PLAN. But I'm still wondering: what is the point?

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