Navy needs to stay fleet of foot

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Navy needs to stay fleet of foot

China officially rolled out its first aircraft carrier on Tuesday amid an escalating diplomatic spat with Japan and Southeast Asian countries over territorial claims to several islands. In a ceremony attended by Chinese President Hu Jintao and other government leaders, the Chinese Navy sent the Liaoning on limited training exercises. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao touted the commissioning of the carrier as carrying a “significant and deep meaning in raising the strength of China’s military and overall national power.” China, the world’s second-biggest economy, has shown that its military and naval might now exceeds patrolling and guarding capabilities.

This is likely to shake up the security land - or sea -scape in East Asia, and heralds the continuation of growing tension with the United States, which has been pivoting its foreign defense strategies more toward the Asia-Pacific to curb China’s rising influence. The U.S. plans to concentrate 60 percent of its naval forces in the Pacific, and deploy six of 11 aircraft carriers in the region. Meanwhile, China aims to build its own fleet of carriers to send to the Pacific and Indian oceans.

China’s naval and military buildup is irking its neighbors amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea, triggering a race to fortify respective defenses in the region. China and Japan recently teetered on the brink of a military clash in the Yellow Sea, near the islands called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan that both claim as part of their sovereign territory. Taiwan also joined in the fight by professing its claim to the rocky islands, and Coast Guard vessels from Japan and Taiwan fired water at each other. If Japan reinstates the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, this could pave the way for a building up of its military strength.

The Liaoning, which has been reassembled from a ship imported from Ukraine, is now more of a show of power than anything else as it will remain defanged for at least the next several years. It does not even have planes on its deck, and many tests need to be carried out. However, the Chinese rushed to get the aircraft carrier sea-borne to demonstrate the country’s military ambition and send a strong message to the U.S., Japan and other Asian neighbors, while at the same time stoking patriotism ahead of a once-in-a-decade power shuffle.

As one of its closest neighbors, we cannot sit idly by, especially as China claims the rights to one of our islands. We cannot match its size or power, but we must still revive the suspended project to build a strategic fleet and accelerate the construction of a naval base on Jeju.
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