China entered its first aircraft carrier into service yesterday, underscoring its ambitions to be a leading Asian naval power.
China's first aircraft carrier enters service
BEIJING // China entered its first aircraft carrier into service yesterday, underscoring its ambitions to be a leading Asian naval power.
The defence ministry's announcement had been long expected and was not directly linked to current tensions with Japan over a disputed group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
The ministry said the carrier's commissioning significantly boosted the navy's combat capabilities and its ability to cooperate in responding to natural disasters and other non-traditional threats.
China had partly justified the launching of a carrier by pointing out that it alone among the five permanent United Nations Security Council members had no such craft. That had been particularly glaring given the constant presence in Asia of carriers operated by the US navy, which maintains 11 worldwide.
President Hu Jintao, also chairman of the commission that controls the military, presided over a ceremony yesterday morning at the ship's home port of Dalian, along with Wen Jiabao, the prime minister and top generals.
So far the trial runs of the aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, have been to test the ship's propulsion, communications and navigation systems. But launching and recovering fixed-wing aircraft at sea is a much trickier proposition. It will take years to build the proper aircraft, to train pilots to land in adverse weather on a moving deck, and to develop a proper carrier battle group.
China is developing a carrier-based fighter-bomber, the J-15, derived from Russia's Sukhoi Su-33, along with a prototype stealth carrier fighter, the J-31.
Beijing has not said what role it intends the carrier to fill other than helping safeguard China's coastline and sea links. The Liaoning has also been portrayed as a kind of test platform for the future development of up to five domestically built Chinese carriers.
Writing in yesterday's China Daily newspaper, retired Rear Admiral Yang Yi said the carrier will be used to master the technology for more advanced carriers. He said it also will be used to train in how to operate such a craft in a battle group and with vessels from other nation's navies.
"When China has a more balanced and powerful navy, the regional situation will be more stable as various forces that threaten regional peace will no longer dare to act rashly," Adm Yang wrote.
Whatever its practical effects on China's global status, the carrier embodies huge symbolism for China's political and military leaders as a totem of their country's rise from weakness to strength, according to Andrew S Erickson, a China naval specialist at the US Naval War College.