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China`s aircraft carrier

Posted April. 08, 2011 06:40,   


China’s official Xinhua News Agency released 20 photos of the country`s first aircraft carrier being built at a shipyard in Dalian, breaking Beijing’s long silence over foreign reports that China will soon have its own aircraft carrier.

China purchased the 67,500-ton Varyag, an unfinished aircraft carrier, at 200 million U.S. dollars from Ukraine in 1998 under the pretext of reconstructing the vessel as a maritime hotel. The purpose of the vessel was changed, however, and Beijing will soon launch it as an aircraft carrier.

China’s defense budget is around 91.7 billion dollars this year, second in the world after that of the U.S. and up 12.7 percent from last year. The aircraft carrier suggests China`s intent to solidify its status as the world’s No. 2 military power after having become the world’s second-largest economy. When an American aircraft carrier attempted to enter the Yellow Sea for a joint military exercise with South Korea, China adamantly protested the move. Beijing has apparently applied a double standard in this situation.

The engine is the heart of a ship. China needed 13 years to complete its carrier primarily because of the engine. Buying the vessel without an engine, Beijing did not possess the sophisticated technology required to build an aircraft carrier engine. Experts speculate that the carrier can sail at a maximum speed of 20 knots, the top speed of a container ship, because China is believed to have mounted a commercial vessel’s engine on the carrier. Beijing has been bent on building a carrier despite the heavy burden for political reasons. If a situation like that of Libya occurs in China, Beijing can deploy the aircraft carrier and use it as an attack base.

Beijing plans to christen its first aircraft carrier “Shi Lang” after a Ming Dynasty admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1683. The Han Chinese leader defected from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty and accomplished great feats. His name befits the vessel whose nationality was changed from Ukrainian to Chinese and is associated with the rise and fall of great world powers. What is the South Korean military and government doing to assess the potential impact of China’s possession of an aircraft carrier on national security?

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)