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Chinese Aircraft Carrier: The New Liaoning Carrier Points to Rising Chinese Power in Asia

After nearly a month in service, according to the Xinhua News Agency, China has successfully developed their first aircraft carrier and reportedly landed at least two J-15 fighter jets on the Liaoning, a remnant of the Soviet Union’s aircraft carrier fleet from the 1990s. China originally bought the Liaoning in damaged condition from Ukraine who possessed rights over the carrier after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

China’s Central Television, in undated footage, showed a J-15 landing and taking off from the Liaoning in a bid to show the world that it has the capability to move forward with its blue water aspirations, the ability to conduct operations in deep waters, and continue their military modernization. 

For the time being, the modernization of Chinese naval power is likely a shift towards claiming more regional power within Asia.

In 2008, Chinese Major General Qian Lihua told the BBC, "Even if one day we have an aircraft carrier, unlike another country, we will not use it to pursue global deployment or global reach.” Rather, for now, China’s new aircraft carrier is a signal to its neighbors India and Thailand, whose aircraft carrier programs currently each have one carrier in service, and Japan, which is currently working on three aircraft carriers (two being converted from helicopter operations to a fully operational carrier), set to be completed as early as 2014.

Following the landing, the Pentagon had a tempered response by simply reporting that the U.S. has kept an eye on China’s aircraft carrier program. The U.S. has good reason to be dismissive about China’s naval power considering it has 11 aircraft carriers and even led an aircraft carrier group in the disputed South China Sea last month as a show of American naval power.  

But, this latest development is a signal to other Asian powers.. Currently, China has disputes with India and Japan over certain islands/territories in the South China Sea. Most notably, China and Japan both claim the Ryukyu island chains and China’s actions to claim these islands have spurred on mass protests against China in dozens of cities. Although the main dispute for the territories in the South China Sea is between China and Japan, neighboring countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos are directly affected, as they fear becoming pawns to China.

Considering the United States established its first aircraft carrier over a century ago, China has a long way to go before it garners real attention from the U.S. intelligence community. The U.S. frigate that traveled through the disputed islands territories was the only necessary response the U.S. needed to give in a showing of absolute naval dominance against China and the world.

In June 2011, Chinese military general Luo Yuan said, "If we consider our neighbors, India will have three aircraft carriers by 2014 and Japan will have three carriers by 2014." Although some may call China’s new aircraft carrier a new era in naval history, with its ever increasing economic strength and its global role in the international community, the implications of its increasing naval power is yet to be seen considering other countries surrounding China also are rapidly developing aircraft carriers and the debate over the disputed islands is far from over.

To get a feel for China’s aspirations in the near future, General Yuan went on to say, “So I think the number (for China) should not be less than three [aircraft carriers] so we can defend our rights and our maritime interests effectively.” 

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