A news Web site run by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said yesterday that the nation’s aircraft carrier should handle territorial disputes, despite government assurances the vessel posed no threat to its neighbors.
The comments came a day after the 300m vessel embarked on its maiden sea trial, prompting a worried US to demand China explain why it needs an aircraft carrier, amid concerns over Beijing’s military aims.
China has repeatedly insisted the carrier — an old Soviet ship that is being refitted in the northeast of the country — will be used mainly for training and research, and that it does not change Beijing’s defensive military policy.
However, in a commentary published on http://jz.chinamil.com.cn, Guo Jianyue (郭建躍), a senior reporter at the PLA Daily, said the carrier should be used in disputes. The Web site is an offshoot of the main PLA Daily site.
“Why did we build [sic] it if we don’t have the courage and willingness to use the aircraft carrier to handle territorial disputes?” he asked in the article.
“It is reasonable to use the aircraft carrier or other warships to handle disputes if there is any need. The reason why we built a carrier is to safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests more efficiently. We will be more confident and have more determination to defend our territorial integrity after we have carriers,” Guo added.
China’s state-run newspapers and Web sites are carefully edited, which indicates the comment piece received approval at a high level, although it may not necessarily reflect a general consensus.
On Wednesday, just hours after the Chinese aircraft carrier embarked, US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington “would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for this kind of equipment.”
“This is part of our larger concern that China is not as transparent as other countries. It’s not as transparent as the United States about its military acquisitions, about its military budget,” she said. “And we’d like to have the kind of open, transparent relationship in military-to-military affairs.”
“In our military-to-military relations with many countries around the world, we have the kind of bilateral dialogue where we can get quite specific about the equipment that we have and its intended purposes, and its intended movements,” she said.
However, China and the US are “not at that level of transparency” to which the two nations aspire, Nuland added.
Other countries have in the past also voiced similar concerns, as China’s military expands and the Asian nation grows more assertive about its territorial claims, notably in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
China’s People’s Liberation Army — the largest armed force in the world — is extremely secretive about its defense programs, which benefit from a huge and expanding military budget boosted by the nation’s runaway economic growth.