China’s first aircraft carrier is expected to be officially launched on Oct. 1 of this year, according to an article in the the June 21 Hong Kong Commercial Daily . www.rfa.org/mandarin/Xinwen/Hangmu-06212011005011.html There will be a sea trial for the carrier on July 1.
The dates for the sea trial and the official launch are significant. July 1 will mark the ninetieth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Oct. 1 is the “National Day” on which the CCP began its rule in 1949.
The carrier’s tentative name is also significant. It is at this time named Shi Lang, for the admiral who commanded the Manchu fleets that conquered the Kingdom of Tungning—present day Taiwan—in 1681. However, the source mentioned that the name has not been finalized and one may be publicly solicited.
The carrier was 70 percent complete when purchased from the Ukraine, where it was known as Varyag, and based on the Kuznetsov design used by the Soviet Union. She has been comprehensively refitted, with workers putting in long hours of overtime to meet the production schedule. The workers stopped retrofitting the carrier long enough, however, to lay out red carpet when the Central Military Commission’s Vice-Chairman, Guo Boxiong, inspected her.
Some deception lurks in the carrier’s history. The Ukraine originally sold it with the stipulation that it would be utilized peacefully, as a casino floating off Macau. When work began in the seaport of Dalian, a vice-director for a state commission, Zhang Guangqin, said in 2005 that Varyag was not being modified for the military. Continuing the ruse, the CCP purchased two smaller carriers and did indeed convert them to floating museums. Not until early in June of 2011 did the official media acknowledge that the Varyag was now a fully equipped ship of war, reported livemint.com www.livemint.com/2011/06/09204257/China8217s-strategic-subter.html .
The key aircraft the carrier will launch is the Shenyang J-15, which Chinese officials say will match the performance of the U.S. carrier-based fighter the F-18A Hornet. The military source for the Commercial Daily article expressed the hope that the launch of the new carrier will help ease tensions in the South China Sea.
The launch of the carrier may not be viewed as easing tensions by China’s neighbors.
In a June 17 blog post Professor Brahma Chellaney of New Delhi links the deception surrounding the retrofitting of the Varyag with other examples of China’s subterfuge. chellaney.net/
Chellaney recalls the development of the Pakistan port of Gwadar, which sits astride crucial sea lanes where the Arabian Sea meets the Persian Gulf. Pakistan’s defense minister embarrassed the Chinese by being quoted as asking “our Chinese brothers” to build the naval base.
According to Chellaney the CCP repeatedly states the Gwadar will be a purely commercial port, while strategists in the region believe that China seeks to assemble a “string of pearls”—naval bases extending from China along the Indian Ocean.
Other examples of CCP subterfuge mentioned by Chellaney include the deployment of Chinese troops in the disputed Kashmir region to build strategic positions, and the denial by the CCP that it had embargoed rare earths to Japan, when the embargo was already in place.