The seas surrounding India and China have probably never been given so much attention since the British traded opium from India to China. The the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and the Diaoyu Islands, better known to Japan as the Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea have of late been major bones of contention in China’s rise as a military power in the region.
An area patrolled by the US marines since World War II, China as part of its larger String of Pearls Theory and to increase its economic, military and political might in the region is taking charge of the seas surrounding her territory. The latest addition to her brigade is China’s first aircraft carrier. At a time when other powers in Asia are becoming uneasy about Beijing’s more strident claims over disputed seas in the region, the country plans to present its first aircraft carrier to the world this week to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party on July 1 to highlight the “scientific development” slogan dear to the heart of Chinese president and party secretary Hu Jintao. To coincide with the anniversary, China also recently launched the fastest train in the world between Beijing and Shanghai this week.
The 990-foot carrier is actually a formerly defunct Soviet-era carrier formerly named the Varyag that was purchased in 1998 from Ukraine by a Hong Kong company. Though it was originally proposed as a floating casino to be docked off the shores of Macau, the ship has reportedly been upgraded at China’s Dalian naval shipyard with combat sensors and defensive weapons and painted in the colors of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Qi Jianguo, assistant to the chief of the PLA’s general staff, is quoted by the AFP as saying the ship would not enter other nations’ territories, in accordance with Beijing’s defensive military strategy. “All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers — they are symbols of a great nation,” he said. Later, he added, “It would have been better for us if we acted sooner in understanding the oceans and mapping out our blue-water capabilities earlier.”
India’s only aircraft carrier is the 50 year old, 28,000-tonne INS Viraat, also a Soviet vessel that is expected to be good to the country for just another decade. Meanwhile, India’s navy says its confident India will have two full-fledged aircraft carrier battle groups (CBGs) by 2015 or so despite slippages in ongoing refit of the 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov in Russia and construction of the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) at Cochin Shipyard.
“We are definitely looking at deploying two aircraft carriers by the middle of this decade,” assistant chief of naval staff (foreign cooperation and intelligence) Rear Admiral Anil Chawla told the Times of India.