India and China’s First Aircraft Carrier
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The commissioning of Beijing's first aircraft carrier, named
'Liaoning' after China's Northeastern province, on Tuesday will be remembered as a defining moment in Asia's maritime history. It marks the arrival of China as a naval power of consequence and the incipient transformation of India's maritime security environment.
It also underlines Beijing's determination to irrevocably alter the strategic seascape of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
China's carrier has come into service at a moment when Beijing's maritime territorial disputes with its neighbours in the
Pacific—including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines—have acquired a sharp edge and its economic interests in the Indian Ocean are growing.
The 'Liaoning' is a reflection of the massive investment Beijing has made in the rapid modernization of its naval forces and the
unwillingness of its leaders to play second fiddle to the United
States, which has dominated the Pacific and Indian Oceans for decades.
The significance of the occasion was underscored by the presence of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao at the ceremony in Dallian port where the Chinese Navy formally received the carrier.
Sceptics in the West point to the fact that it will be a while before 'Liaoning' will be an effective military platform. The pilots of the PLA Navy are still learning the tricks of landing and taking off from the carrier. It will be years before the PLAN builds an operational carrier battle group around the 'Liaoning'.
Unsurprisingly some experts in the United States have called it a 'stepping stone' rather than a 'milestone' in the rise of China as a naval power. Many in the Indian defence establishment, which has operated aircraft carriers for decades, insist that it is one thing to acquire the carrier and entirely another to master the operational arts associated with it.
The fact, however, is that military analysts in the United States and India have long underestimated the pace of China's military modernization and the political logic underlying it.
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