ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
New carrier raises South China Sea tensionsBy David Swartzemtruber
A day after a refurbished Chinese navy aircraft carrier took its maiden voyage, China’s defense ministry said on a news web site that the carrier should handle territorial disputes.
The statement is going to raise already high tensions among the four Asean countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam) and Taiwan that are concerned about China’s claim that most of the South China Sea is their territory.
In a comment piece published on jz.chinamil.com.cn, Guo Jianyue, a senior reporter at the top state-run military newspaper PLA Daily, said the carrier should be brought out for disputes. The website is an offshoot of the main PLA Daily site.
China's state-run newspapers and websites are carefully edited, which indicates the comment piece received approval at a higher level, although it may not necessarily reflect the general consensus.
The carrier is not an example of a modern-day carrier as it is a refurbished old Soviet ship but nevertheless, it is a carrier that could support aircraft. The 300-meter vessel —once called the Varyag—was originally built for the Soviet navy but construction was interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
China only provided the first official acknowledgment of the carrier in June when Chen Bingde, the nation’s top military official, gave an interview to a Hong Kong newspaper.
Andrei Chang, head of the Kanwa Information Center, which monitors China’s military, told said that it would probably test whether the engines worked, and that on-off sea trials would continue for another year or two.
He also noted that the carrier did not appear to have the equipment that decelerates a plane upon landing, meaning only helicopters could land on the carrier until that sophisticated equipment is installed.
There has been no comment from any of the Asean countries about the carrier at this time. However, the US has expressed concern that China’s tight secrecy on its military affairs serves only to raise apprehensions as it becomes more assertive in pressing its claims in the South China Sea.
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