China launches massive new warship

A Chinese general has revealed that the country's first aircraft carrier could soon be ready for sea trials. It's further evidence of China's rising military power.

Visible by satellite on Google Earth, it's the worst kept military secret in China. But behind the IKEA superstore in the Chinese port of Dalian, sits 60,000 tonnes of steel and it's about to set sail – China's first aircraft carrier.

For the Chinese, it's long overdue. 'An aircraft carrier is a symbol of the power of your navy,' says retired Chinese General Xu Guangyu, 'China should at least be on the same level as other permanent members of the UN Security Council who have carriers.'

Seven nations currently operate these vast ships. America has 11, Italy has two, while France, Russia, India, Holland and Thailand all have one.

This list used to include the UK, but country's last carrier, the Ark Royal, was recently withdrawn from service and will not be replaced for several years.

For China, it's not just about status; it's also about power. 'It's a symbol of deterrence,' says Xu. 'It's like saying, 'Don't mess with me. Don't think you can bully me.' So it's normal for us to want a carrier. I actually think it's strange if China doesn't have one.'

The carrier itself has an interesting history. It was originally a Russian warship, built in the 1980s. Never completed, it was destined for the scrapyard when the Soviet Union crumbled – until a Chinese company stepped in.

There was talk of it becoming a floating casino. Instead, it's become an aircraft carrier named Shi Lang, after the 17th century Chinese admiral.

The Shi Lang is just part of China's secretive but determined effort to catch up with the US in military hardware. At present, they believe they're 20 years behind.

China has the largest army in the world, numbering about 2.2 million compared to America's 1.6m. But it remains well behind the US in terms of capability. Each of America's 11 carriers is larger and more technologically advanced than Shi Lang.

The current strike potential of a single US carrier makes it the most powerful military asset in the world.

The giant wakes

The Chinese are keen to establish peaceful motives for their latest naval adventure.

'The development of our armed forces is connected with the development of our economy,' says General Xu. 'In energy supplies and trade we now have interests that span the globe. So our military strength needs to match the range of our economic and diplomatic activity.'

But for others, the launch of Shi Lang is a further sign of a giant waking up to its military potential on the international stage.

You Decide

  1. 'A nation's weapons are more important than their hospitals.' Do you agree?
  2. 'Another bully in the playground, apart from the US, will be good.'

Activities

  1. Class competition: Come up with the best name for an aircraft carrier. This should include the name and the reason for it. The name should give us a clue as to what you feel about this ship.
  2. Research the subject and then design – in rough or in detail - an aircraft carrier. (See 'Become an expert') And what you design, you can name.

Some People Say...

“The more superpowers that police the world, the better.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is there concern about China's military growth?
They don't want the world to be concerned. As one spokesman said: 'Once we have constructed an aircraft carrier, we will never sail it to other regions like some countries with aircraft carriers frequently do.' He's referring to the Americans, of course.
But people are still worried?
The Chinese are pushing ahead rapidly with their weapons development programme – including the test flight of a J-20 stealth fighter and development of a 'carrier-killer' missile. Vietnam and the Philippines are both in sea border disputes with China at present – they'll be concerned.
But China feels its making up for lost time?
Definitely. As General Xu said: 'It would have been better for us if we acted sooner in understanding the oceans and mapping out our blue-water capabilities earlier.'

Word Watch

United Nations Security Council
The body responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has five permanent members – the US, Russia, France, China and the UK – and ten non-permanent members.
Soviet Union
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, often abbreviated to the Soviet Union, was a group of republics governed centrally from Moscow. The union existed from 1922 – 1991, when it was dissolved.
Capability
In a military sense, the ability of a nation to act aggressively in the world. An aircraft carrier, for instance, increases capability by giving nations a mobile attack-base from which to launch air strikes.
Carrier-killers
Missiles designed to be launched from land with enough accuracy to penetrate the defences of even the most advanced moving aircraft carrier from a distance of more than 900 miles.

Subjects

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