China purchased an aircraft carrier that the Soviet Union had originally planned to scrap, patched it up and has deployed the vessel on long military drills in its coastal waters. Last week, the carrier cruised through the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to intimidate the “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” Taiwan.
The move was an attempt to play in the big league, but displayed ignorance and arrogance similar to that of the Boxer rebels at the turn of the 20th century.
Just as those rebels, who initiated what became known as the Boxer Rebellion toward the end of the Qing Dynasty, believed they were impervious to swords and firearms, their contemporary counterparts believe their sinkable aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, can sink an unsinkable one.
Similarly, however, their Taiwanese counterparts claim that the Liaoning is impervious to Taiwan’s Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missiles and that the carrier was here to “protect” them.
These new Boxer rebels really are not very smart.
Aircraft carriers are designed for battle in the open sea, not in coastal waters.
For a carrier to work well, it must operate in secured, safe waters and avoid exposing itself to the danger of being attacked from the air, sea and land and rendering itself useless by steering into narrow waters.
When a US aircraft carrier battle group goes on an operation, the alert area typically spans at least 200 nautical miles (370km).
During the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis — which was created by then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) — when China fired missiles into the waters off Kaohsiung and Keelung, the US deployed an aircraft carrier battle group in the waters north of Taiwan, and another one south of Taiwan, but it did not send one of its aircraft carriers into the Taiwan Strait.
Following the missile firings by China, then-US secretary of defense William Perry said in a television interview that if China launched an attack, its navy might be destroyed in a second.
The patched-together Liaoning has only 15 carrier-based fighter jets and a limited number of pilots with experience in carrier deck take-offs and landings. In contrast, a US aircraft carrier, with a squadron of 75 aircraft, is far more powerful.
Instead of posing any danger to “the unsinkable aircraft carrier,” the Liaoning was putting itself in danger by steering into the Taiwan Strait.
When the Taiwanese “Boxer rebels” jokingly said that they were hoping that the Ministry of National Defense would not fire any Hsiung Feng III missiles by mistake again, at least they were aware of how vulnerable the Liaoning is.
Following the collapse of the pro-unification faction within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), many of the party’s members have become mouthpieces for China, voicing lies and spreading fear, exaggerating the impact of the reduced numbers of Chinese tourists on Taiwan’s businesses, supporting the cooperation between China and areas in Taiwan ruled by the pan-blue camp, and broadcasting Beijing’s threats about economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
This time they even bragged about the Liaoning, which is really just an antique.
In its desperate attempt to show off its aircraft carrier, China has only exposed its shortcomings, as Taiwan monitored the carrier’s every move in nearby waters.
To send a sinkable aircraft carrier into the territory of an unsinkable one is not going to threaten the latter, but only invite scorn.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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