China’s First Aircraft Carrier

Aug 12 2011 @ 8:44am

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The Varyag, a former Soviet carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998, just launched on its first training exercise. Bonnie S. Glaser and Brittany Billingsley explain China's motivation:

The acquisition of an aircraft carrier is driven in part by China’s desire for international prestige. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, Spain, Italy, India, Brazil, and Thailand operate a total of 21 active-service aircraft carriers (the United States alone operates 11). An aircraft carrier is widely viewed by Chinese as a symbol of national power and prestige. PLA officers often remind foreigners that China is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council without a carrier. At the same time, however, the procurement of the carrier is a consequence of an improved continental threat environment that has imposed constraints on China’s ability to develop sea power.

Yglesias thinks the move only shows how far behind China is militarily. But Raymond Pritchett sees it as the latest example of our inability to think strategically the way China does:

The Chinese intentionally frame their narrative in a way so that the rise of their national seapower is perceived as part of a larger system of broad Chinese advancement, not unlike the way the US looked upon sea and space achievements before the end of the cold war.  I find the contrast in outlook stark in comparison. As the Chinese set near term, small goals at the political level and strive to meet those goals, the intention is to continuously inspire their population with advancement through otherwise insignificant small steps. They basically apply very simple political visions forwarded with reasonable expectations for scientific achievement that reinforces national confidence when those stated goals are achieved. Their current model of modest steps that allows for maximum political benefit in an information age is good governance 101. 

In the US today our political leaders do not outline national goals that inspire confidence in our political leadership, in our people, or in our countries future.

(Photo: An aircraft carrier, known as the Varyag, is docked at Dalian Shipyard on June 14, 2011 in Dalian, Liaoning Province of China. The Varyag will be used for scientific research, experiment and training, according to the China's National Defense Ministry on July 27, 2011. By ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)