Maritime menace

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Maritime menace

Speculation about China’s aircraft carrier project has been confirmed. In an interview with the Financial Times on Monday, a senior official at the Chinese Ministry of National Defense professed that China has the right to build an aircraft carrier.

“The navy of any great power ... has the dream to have one or more aircraft carriers,” Major General Qian Lihua, director of the ministry’s foreign affairs office, told the London-based daily. He was responding to American claims earlier this year that China had decided to develop and deploy its first aircraft carrier. His comments come as a shock as it is the first time a senior Chinese official had acknowledged China’s aircraft carrier ambitions.

Beijing is reportedly planning to build a 48,000-ton non-nuclear-powered carrier by 2010 and a 93,000-ton atomic-powered carrier by 2020. Some reports claim it is already training 50 pilots.

“The question is not whether you have an aircraft carrier, but what you do with your aircraft carrier,” Qian told the paper yesterday, adding that if China builds an aircraft carrier it would use the vessel only for offshore defense.

If defending its coastline is the purpose, a landing strip could be another option, not an expensive maritime air force. Aircraft carriers reflect the military strength of a country, upon which huge national stakes depend.

There are currently seven countries that possess aircraft carriers or are in the process of developing them, including the U.S., which has 11. The other six are Russia, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy and India.

China’s aircraft carrier project had been expected. But such ambition from a country whose military might almost match that of the U.S. cannot be interpreted as simple military expansion. Such power would place China at a strategic advantage.

The shift in China’s military status could send shockwaves through East Asia. It can be perilous to U.S.?Japan sea defenses that connect Japanese islands with Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Korean Peninsula.

Korea depends on the sea for the safe transport of energy and other resources plus commodities. For us, it is more than a matter of defense; it’s about life and death.

We have to keep up close ties with the U.S. while in the longer run working on a Northeast Asian option to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

We worry whether our government is aware of the significance of the matter and if it has measures to address it.
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