2011年04月28日 06:25 AM
Chinese warship makes regional waves
At the Ikea store in Dalian, the city in north-eastern China, most customers last Thursday were middle-aged women sifting through textiles and tableware.
In the bedding department, however, the activity was more unusual. One man was aiming a camera on a tripod through a glass door, zooming in on a ship across the harbour: China's first aircraft carrier.
Bought in 1998 from Ukraine as an unfinished hull, the Soviet-designed carrier Varyag is being given what Xinhua, the official news agency, says are the finishing touches.
The carrier is expected to enter service this year as the Shi Lang, named after the 17th-century admiral who conquered Taiwan, the island that China considers a renegade province.
Since the ship emerged from dry dock last year, many Chinese military enthusiasts have made the pilgrimage to Dalian, equipped with telescopes and expensive cameras.
“I've also been to the Wuhan [naval] shipyard to look at submarines, but this is better,” says the young man with the
The ship can be seen from many high-rises and elevated roads in Dalian, but two Ikea emergency exits on the third floor have emerged as the preferred vantage points.
The carrier is arousing interest far beyond China. Robert Willard, commander of US forces in the Pacific, recently said the ship would be watched closely by China's neighbours.
“[Our] regional partners regard this step by the Chinese in the midst of what has otherwise been a remarkable growth in their military capability as significant,” Admiral Willard said.
Officers in the US navy and the navies of other Pacific-countries say China will need many years before it can effectively operate an aircraft carrier. “Owning a carrier is one thing, operating one, or even a carrier strike group, is something completely different ,” said one non-Chinese naval officer.
Because of this, and because the carrier's launch has been expected for so long, the vessel is expected to do little to help China catch up with the US navy, the dominant naval power which the Chinese navy could eventually seek to challenge.
For the time being, such a challenge is much more likely to come from an anti-ship ballistic missile with which US military experts believe China could target US carriers.
Comments from Chinese government officials reveal the country views an aircraft carrier as a symbol of its growing power.
China also believes carriers could help its navy better carry out missions far away from China as its economic interests expand.
Chinese military sources are reluctant to address the potential combat functions of a carrier, but independent military analysts say that an operational carrier would bring China closer to its goal of air superiority over Taiwan.
對於中國人民解放軍(PLA)而言，施琅號服役將只是萬里長征的第一步。倫敦政治風險諮詢公司Exclusive Analysis研究中國海軍的專家加里•李(Gary Li)表示：“由於（中國海軍）即將駛入的是一片未知水域，第一艘航母必然將主要用於訓練。”
For the People's Liberation Army, taking the Shi Lang into service will be just the first step on this long road. “The first carrier will inevitably be mainly geared towards training as the [PLA Navy] will be sailing into uncharted waters,” says Gary Li, an expert on the Chinese navy at Exclusive Analysis, a political risk consultancy in London.
Beijing remains silent on where the Shi Lang will be deployed or what exactly it will do with the ship.
Mr Li says that in terms of integrating it with existing navy capabilities, the South Sea Fleet base on Hainan Island would be the best choice.
“The most modern frigates and destroyers as well as submarines are already based there, and the addition of a carrier would easily allow a battle group to be formed if needed,” he says.