October 2, 2012

A leap forward on the sea – China’s first aircraft carrier

Ligi nädala eest lõppesid Venemaa lõunaosas suurõppused Kavkaz-2012, milliseid Vene meedia kirjeldas peamiselt kui siseriikliku julgeoleku tagamisele suunitletud sõjamänge. Olukord Põhja-Kaukaasias on jätkuvalt rahutu ja Sotši olümpiamängud pole enam mägede taga. Tegelikkuses kandis Kavkaz-2012 eneses viiteid valmistumisele täiemõõduliseks konventsionaalseks konfliktiks, mis lisaks Venemaale hõlmaks ka naaberriike.

Ligi nädala eest lõppesid Venemaa lõunaosas suurõppused Kavkaz-2012, milliseid Vene meedia kirjeldas peamiselt kui siseriikliku julgeoleku tagamisele suunitletud sõjamänge. Olukord Põhja-Kaukaasias on jätkuvalt rahutu ja Sotši olümpiamängud pole enam mägede taga. Tegelikkuses kandis Kavkaz-2012 eneses viiteid valmistumisele täiemõõduliseks konventsionaalseks konfliktiks, mis lisaks Venemaale hõlmaks ka naaberriike.

The vessel, originally named Riga, then re-named Varyag, was purchased from Ukraine 14 years ago in 1998 by a small Hong Kong company Chong Lot with the stated aim of converting it into an amusement park or a floating casino in Macau. In hindsight, this was never the intention. Macau’s officials warned Chong Lot before the purchase that Varyag would not be allowed to dock in the harbour, casino licence was later rejected. The company went ahead with the $20-25 million purchase regardless. Chong Lot’s ownership structure, it has emerged, was closely connected to the mainland China and People’s Liberation Army Navy former personnel. Despite the obvious proof of on-going building works in Dalian port (right next to IKEA shopping centre), the Chinese military officially confirmed only in June 2011 that Varyag was being refitted to serve as the nation’s first aircraft carrier. Preparations for this announcement were made earlier as the China’s Defence White Paper of 2010 emphasised the development of its “capabilities in conducting operations in distant waters and in countering non-traditional security threats” as a priority.

Cementing China’s status as a rising economic and political power depends increasingly on its ability to secure and defend energy supplies and trade interest not only in the region, but much further afield – Indian Ocean and the Pacific is where China feels it is most vulnerable. China has been effective in building political and economic alliances with countries such Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Iran to mitigate this problem, but the lack of hard power is still apparent. There are different estimates of how many aircraft carriers China is aiming to build in the future. Everyone, except the Chinese officials, appears convinced that this is the plan. Taiwan’s intelligence chief has said this year that China has decided to build two aircraft carriers; Chinese experts have proposed that a number could be between three and five. There are speculations of the possible launch of China’s first domestically built carriers after 2015. Last month China warned the US, with “pivot” to Asia, not to get involved in disputes involving China’s interests in the region. One might expect that the opposite is going to happen. The growth of China’s military power and assertiveness will probably lead to stronger alliances with the US and an increase in defence spending by concerned states.

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