China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has been roaming through the South China Sea with its battle group in tow, making other Pacific powers nervous, especially Taiwan and Japan.
“The threat of our enemy is growing day by day. We should always be maintaining our combat alertness,” said Taiwan’s Defense Minister, Feng Shih-Kuan, as quoted by CNN.
Japan took note of the Liaoning’s activities as well. “We are taking notice of this event, which indicates China is expanding its ability to engage in maritime warfare,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Taiwan was nervous enough to dispatch jet fighters to keep an eye on Liaoning and take photos of it. Japan did the same thing, except they published the photographs. This prompted an irritated Chinese Defense Ministry to thank Japan for saving it the trouble of posting its own glamour shots of the carrier.
The Liaoning is currently docked at the Chinese naval base in Hainan, but the Taiwanese believe it will resume military drills soon. The Chinese military announced that fighter launch, recover, and air combat drills were performed by the carrier in both the Yellow Sea and East China Sea.
For Beijing’s perspective, CNN turned to the reliably overheated editorialists of the Communist Party’s Global Times and found them urging China to (1.) build more aircraft carriers, and (2.) park them off the coast of North and South America.
The Global Times mourns China’s inferiority to the American fleet’s “fighting capacity and experience,” waves off the Defense Ministry’s portrayal of the Liaoning as primarily a research vessel, and calls for the deployment of carriers hither and yon as “strategic tools which should be used to show China’s strength to the world and shape the outside world’s attitude toward China.”
“The Chinese fleet will cruise to the Eastern Pacific sooner or later. When China’s aircraft carrier fleet appears in offshore areas of the US one day, it will trigger intense thinking about maritime rules,” the editorial predicts. “In addition, China needs to think about setting up navy supply points in South America right now.”
CNN’s analysts note that China’s current build plans would leave it with four carriers by 2029, compared to at least 12 for the United States by that time. Also, China’s lack of skilled aviators and crew would put its new carriers at an enormous disadvantage against American ships in a confrontation. (The unhappy voyage of Russia’s aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean for duty in the Syrian civil war provides an instructive example.)
China’s eagerness to show off its force-projecting aircraft carriers has its limits. The South China Morning Post reports that Chinese state media are currently going bonkers over the publication of high-res photos of a Chinese carrier under construction by Japan’s Kyodo News.
SCMP reports that China National Defense Daily called the photos a “wake-up call” for lax protection of Chinese military secrets, fretted about the security risks posed by new technologies such as drones, and called for increased vigilance against the foreign seduction of Chinese workers for espionage purposes. (They mean “seduction” in a fairly literal sense, as Beijing has grown worried about attractive young men and women being used as “honey traps” by foreign spy services.)