China’s first aircraft carrier, a Soviet relic bought from Ukraine, is now in service. It was launched at a triumphant ceremony with top officials in attendance, including President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Problem is, the carrier is pretty much useless. Jane Perlez reports for the NYT:
The mark “16” emblazoned on the carrier’s side indicates it is limited to training, Chinese and other military experts said. China does not have planes capable of landing on the carrier and so far training for such landings have been carried out on land, they said.American military planners have downplayed the significance of the commissioning of the carrier. Some Navy officials have even said they would encourage China to move ahead with building its own aircraft carrier and the ships to accompany it, because it would be a waste of money.Other military experts outside China have agreed with that assessment.“The fact is the aircraft carrier is useless for the Chinese Navy,” You Ji, a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, said in an interview. “If it is used against America, it has no survivability. If it is used against China’s neighbors, it’s a sign of bullying.”
It will be a while before China can challenge the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. And for now and the foreseeable future, economic weapons will be far more effective than naval muscle in disputes with the neighbors over island territories. The biggest danger the aircraft carrier poses may be to the Chinese government itself. Chinese nationalists, who sometimes have little understanding of military and political realities outside China, may fall for the hype and think that the aircraft carrier represents a real step up for Chinese power. They will expect the government to use that imaginary power and take a harder line in disputes with neighbors and the US — and be angry and disappointed when that fails to happen.