As balance shiftsLiang Guanglie, the Chinese Defense Minister, has confirmed China’s plans to develop an aircraft carrier. The announcement was made during his meeting last week with his Japanese counterpart, Yasukazu Hamada.
We can assume it’s only a matter of time before China puts a carrier into commission.
It is perhaps inevitable that China, an emerging economy, would strengthen its naval power to ensure the safety of its trade and energy transport routes.
But the possession of an aircraft carrier means much more than that: The carrier is not merely defensive but is capable of extending the reach of China’s military.
Therefore, it is time for South Korea to prepare for the shift in the balance of power in Northeast Asia that is sure to follow this new development in China.
China’s possession of a carrier will no doubt provoke Japan.
Japan owns several high-tech Aegis vessels and light aircraft carriers, but does not own a full-fledged aircraft carrier, so China’s development of a carrier will likely push Japan to produce one for itself.
If the two countries enter into an arms race, it will present a direct threat to South Korean airspace and waters.
According to international practice, our Air Force reserves the right to regulate aircraft from neighboring countries entering Kadiz, the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone.
But that right does not apply to aircraft taking off from aircraft carriers, potentially leaving a big hole in our defense of the disputed islets Ieodo and Dokdo, which lie within South Korea’s exclusive economic zone. We need to be prepared for that. And for our long-term future, we need to look into whether or not we too should own an aircraft carrier.
In the end, China’s possession of an aircraft carrier could serve to reduce United States influence in Asian waters. China already appears to have attempted to restrain U.S. intelligence operations and geological surveys in the South China Sea.
The continuation of that kind of activity could put South Korea, a long-standing ally of the United States, in an awkward position with China. It would also undoubtedly have adverse effects on our relations with China, our biggest trading partner.
We need to work toward minimizing any possibility that could put China and the United States at odds against each other at sea.
We should try to help build a new, peaceful order that extends across the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, and adopt a system that could ensure such an order internationally.