Is China prepping for war? Second aircraft carrier under construction with plans to build more
China is bulking up its navy, fast.
Chinese sources confirmed the last week that the country's second aircraft carrier is under construction. Furthermore, China appears to have plans to float four aircraft carriers by 2020. The military expansion has some worried that China will be making a major play for power in Asia, over the next decade or two.
China already has one aircraft carrier, of Soviet origin. That carrier, now known as the "Liaoning," was originally built in Ukraine, but went unfinished after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine inherited the carrier, but it was never finished. That carrier was later sold to a Hong Kong investor in 1998, for $20 million. The plan was to turn the unused ship into a floating casino.
A prayer for peace is never wasted.
It's likely the plan was a ruse, because the ship was never docked in Hong Kong. Instead it was towed to Dalian shipyard in northeastern China and finished as an aircraft carrier.
Both the Liaoning and the next three Chinese aircraft carriers that are slated for construction, are about half the size of standard US aircraft carriers. They carry about one third the number of aircraft. Although China seems to be catching up in defense, it still lags far behind the United States and other major Western powers in technological capability.
The nation does however have a stealth-capable fighter which may be able to operate from the carrier, especially if the aircraft's design is lightened.
The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) says it would like to have all four carriers operational by 2020. This may be far-fetched, because China does not seem to have the construction facilities ready to build the two additional carriers within the next six years. It is reasonable to believe they will have two, possibly three afloat by then, with the fourth well under construction.
Regardless of the timetable, the greater question must be, what does China plan to do with the carriers?
Because of limitations of size, technology, and probably military tactics, it is highly unlikely that China intends to rival the United States anytime soon in the Pacific, or South China Sea. What is more likely is that the country will use these carriers to project power over other Asian nations in the region.
North and South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam will almost certainly be impacted by the deployment of these carriers. They could also operate further afield, controlling in the Indian Ocean, and even protecting against Somali pirates in the Red Sea.
China could also use the carriers for humanitarian missions, much as the United States use theirs. The carriers would be ideally suited for quick deliveries of humanitarian supplies to disaster stricken regions throughout the Pacific. This should be a benevolent use of the carriers, and like the United States, it would build favor with countries receiving aid.
The most dangerous prospect behind the development of these carriers of course, is the militarization of Asian seas. North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and China, and even the Philippines to a limited extent, are all said to be increasing military budgets and developing new naval assets. Competition for resources in the area, especially rich fishing grounds, is only expected to intensify over the coming years. If enough competition develops and enough war material is built, the region could become a powder keg, at least for a sharp, limited engagement.
Indeed we would do well to remember Homer's warning, "the sword itself incites to violence."
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
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