Wednesday, 10 August 2011

BBC News: China's first aircraft carrier 'starts sea trials'

BBC News reports today on the 'unveiling' of China's worst kept secret of the last ten years:
The Chinese navy's first aircraft carrier has begun its sea trials, the state-run Xinhua news agency has said. It quoted military sources as saying that the refitted former Soviet warship left its shipyard in the north-east and the trial "would not take a long time".

The move is likely to raise fresh concerns over China's rapid military build-up. Beijing is currently involved in several maritime territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea.

The aircraft carrier left its shipyard at Dalian Port in northeast Liaoning Province on Wednesday morning, Xinhua reported.

"Military sources said that the first sea trial was in line with the schedule of the carrier refitting project," it said. "After returning from the sea trial, the aircraft carrier will continue refit and test work." Xinhua did not provide any further details.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says China is years away from being able to deploy this carrier as a potent military tool. Even so, the country's neighbours will be worried.

Many are involved in disputes with China over maritime borders - and they will be looking anxiously at Beijing's naval build-up, our correspondent says.
The article continues, as does other analysis worth checking:

Aircraft carrier symbol of China's naval ambitions

China extending military reach

Viewpoint: A new Sino-US high-tech arms race?

The Guardian offers an alternative to the US-centric analysis of rising Chinese military power, focusing instead on the (potential) naval rivalry with India:

China's first aircraft carrier launches with pride amid regional tensions
Last week, Japan's annual defence report said the Chinese navy were likely to increase activities around Japan and warned that China had acted "in a way seen as coercive" in conflicts. Beijing responded by accusing Tokyo of irresponsible exaggeration. The test is a small step in the long journey towards building a viable carrier group, but it is already stoking unease in India, and prompting fears of an arms race between Asia's two emerging powers.

The Indian Ocean is fast becoming a zone of contested influence between Beijing and Delhi. Indian strategists have been particularly worried by a string of ports constructed with Chinese assistance in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

"The carrier will add a new dimension to the burgeoning Chinese navy which could provide a major challenge to India in its backyard, the Indian Ocean," the Times of India commented on Wednesday.

Despite a £10bn modernisation programme, much of the Indian armed forces' on equipment is outdated, and efforts to build or buy aircraft carriers have been hampered by political wrangling and red tape.

The Indian navy has a small 50-year old 28,000-tonne carrier, which it bought from the UK in 1987, but it aims to have at least two aircraft carrier battle groups in operation by 2015.

The ongoing refit of the 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov, purchased from Russia in 2005, and the construction in India of a new 40,000-tonne carrier are expected to be completed in the coming three to four years."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 said earlier this year.

Defence analyst Ajaj Shukla said that India retains the lead in naval aviation, but that there was a clear fear of "the projection of Chinese power into the northern Indian Ocean in a new way".

"The Chinese are at an earlier stage but once they set their minds to operating a naval air arm they will catch up pretty fast so it is being carefully watched," he said.

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