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China’s growing military clout worries Asian neighbors

/ 04:14 AM June 29, 2011

Beijing—China’s expected launch soon of its first aircraft carrier will add to a growing military clout just as other powers in Asia are becoming uneasy about Beijing’s more strident claims over disputed seas in the region.

In practical terms, though, it is likely to take the Chinese Navy years to have a credible carrier operation in Asia’s seas, which have largely been the domain of the US Navy since World War II.

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The former Soviet carrier, originally destined to become a floating casino, is part of President Hu Jintao’s push to modernize the navy and could be presented to the world as soon as this week to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party on July 1.

China is already busy upgrading its destroyers and submarines to sail further and strike harder, building a “blue water” navy to project power far from its shores and to protect the sea lanes on which its trade-reliant economy depends.

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An aircraft carrier fits neatly into that strategy. It could end up being based in the southern island province of Hainan, which sits strategically atop the disputed and potentially energy-rich West Philippine (South China) Sea.

Signal to Hanoi, Manila

“It will be the clearest possible signal that China intends to operate at sea in a sustained fashion,” said Dean Cheng, a China security expert at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

“Given the ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, it is an unmistakable signal to Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, as well as Hanoi and any other regional capitals that the Chinese are serious when they describe their maritime territories as ‘blue soil,’” he added.

“Indeed, given the rising tensions, this is something that can be expected to ratchet up tensions.”

Other powers in Asia are already alarmed at China’s growing military prowess—defense spending is growing fast and in January it confirmed it had held its first test flight of the J-20 stealth fighter jet.

Not a threat

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The 300-meter Varyag is undergoing refit at a state-run shipyard in northeastern city Dalian, sources have told Reuters.

A Chinese firm bought the then-engineless Varyag from Ukraine in 1998 for $20 million, planning to convert it into a floating casino in Macau, but it then ended up in the hands of China’s military.

China says it needs to upgrade its outmoded forces and that its plans are not a threat to any country, pointing out that its defense budget is far lower than the United States. Reuters

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TAGS: Asian neighbors, Beijing, China, Chinese aircraft carrier, Chinese Navy, President Hu Jintao, West Philippine Sea
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