Mon, Jun 13, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Is there significance in a name?

By Wang Jyh-perng 王志鵬

The Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported in January that the 50,000-tonne Project 1143.5 Kuznetsov-class conventionally powered aircraft carrier Varyag, originally built in the Soviet Union and later purchased from the Ukraine by China, would soon be fully refurbished and ready for military service. The report said that equipment was being installed on the ship and that it would carry Sukhoi Su-33 fighters that China plans to buy from Russia, along with Chinese-built Flying Shark J-15 fighters, which are based on the Su-33. In addition, China is expected to build two 60,000-plus-tonne nuclear-powered aircraft carriers based on the former Soviet Union’s Project 1143.7 Ulyanovsk class that should be completed by 2020.

This and other reports about China’s aircraft carrier plans have prompted debate in Taiwan and abroad, with talk of the “China threat” coming to the fore once again. Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, told the US Senate on April 12 that when China deploys aircraft carriers, it will change the way countries in the region view the balance of military power in Asia and the Pacific.

In December last year, Japan published new National Defense Program Guidelines, which are in part a response to China’s growing sea power. The core content of the guidelines is a big increase in the number of new Japanese-built diesel-electric submarines. India, which already has three aircraft carriers, has paid US$2.33 billion to buy and refit the 44,000-tonne Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov.

The strategic purpose of China’s aircraft carrier fleet is mainly concerned not with the East China Sea, the US or Japan, but with command of the seas stretching from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea. The US has used its aircraft carriers not only to project military power, but also to provide humanitarian assistance. If the US can do that, there is no reason why China should not do the same.

The most interesting discussions have to do with reports that the Varyag will be renamed the “Shi Lang.” Although it is not clear where this story came from, the earliest report about it seems to have appeared on the US-based Web site StrategyPage on Jan. 9, 2008, which said that sailors and civilians working on the Varyag revealed that the carrier would soon be officially renamed the “Shi Lang.”

Shi Lang (施琅) is the name of a Ming Dynasty admiral who surrendered to the succeeding Qing Dynasty. In 1683, the 23rd year of the reign of the Kangxi (康熙) emperor, Shi led Qing forces across the Taiwan Strait to take possession of Taiwan. For this reason, the name could be very sensitive politically.

China has its own set of rules for naming naval ships. According to China’s regulations for naming naval vessels, cruisers are to be named after provinces, regions or municipalities, destroyers after big and medium-sized cities, corvettes after medium and small-sized cities, and supply ships after lakes. Nuclear submarines take the name Long March (長征) plus a serial number, while conventional missile submarines are called Expedition (遠征) plus a serial number and conventional torpedo submarines are called Great Wall (長城) plus a serial number.

Minesweepers and minelayers are named after prefectures, submarine chasers after counties, dock and tank landing ships after mountains and infantry landing craft after rivers. Training craft are named after people, like the ocean-going training ship Zheng He (鄭和), named after the great Ming Dynasty admiral and explorer. A few ships have special names, such as the Peace Ark, which at 30,000 tonnes is the world’s biggest hospital ship.

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