China's First Aircraft Carrier

China’s first aircraft carrier made its debut five-day voyage on August 15th, returning to a crowd who welcomed the giant vessel belonging to the resurgent People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with fireworks. 

However, at a briefing for journalists (August 10), State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was peppered with questions about the nature of US concerns given the vast superiority of the US Navy, despite post-Cold War reductions.  Was it because of the possibility tensions might increase in the region, especially in Taiwan?  Was it concern about the rise of China’s military power and the possibility China may dominate Asian shipping lanes?

To each question, Nuland gave the same response - that the prime US concern has always been about China’s lack of transparency. “We want to see more transparency. We would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for needing this kind of equipment.”

The arrival of a Chinese aircraft carrier was forecast by the May/June issue of The Global Journal in an interview with Taiwan’s former Deputy Defense Minister Lin Chong-pin, who said Beijing’s official line is that aircraft carriers are needed for coastal defense. 

“In the beginning Varyag was purchased (from Ukraine) as an amusement park at sea,” he said. “Only in the early 21st century did people start to notice that it was painted in military white.”

Currently a Professor at Tamkang University, Lin is however, not worried about any threat to Taiwan, at least in the near term. In an interview with China’s official Xinhua News Agency following the ship’s return to port, he said the carrier is more of a symbol to enhance China’s self image at home and globally rather than a real milestone in military might.