VietNamNet Bridge - The announcement on July 27 that China had refitted an old
Soviet-era aircraft carrier was likely timed for diplomatic advantage in
territorial negotiations over the South China Sea (East Sea).
At a July 27 news conference, Geng Yansheng, a defense ministry spokesman, downplayed any connection between the announcement and territorial disputes Beijing has with some Southeast Asian countries in the East Sea.
"The timing of this announcement has no relationship with issues in the South China Sea," Geng said. "There will be no change in China's defensive national defense policy."
However, state-run media played up the first announcement that China possessed an aircraft carrier.
A report on China Central Television explained that nine nations, including the United States, possessed aircraft carriers. Explaining that nations such as Japan and South Korea also have destroyers capable of carrying helicopters, the report went on to say, "It is only natural for China to possess one."
Xinhua News Agency distributed a special report which said, "Building and operating an aircraft carrier is indispensable in becoming a major power in the world."
The Chinese military began work to construct a domestic carrier from 2009. Work to repair the Varyag, a Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier, began in 2002. However, the government never made any formal announcement of the moves.
Sources said Beijing kept the projects under wraps to avoid complaints that China was becoming a threat from neighboring nations.
However, the main components of the Varyag, including its propulsion system, were completed early this year. Images of the aircraft carrier also began appearing on the Internet.
One Chinese military source said, "There was no longer a need to hide it."
There were also increasing calls on the Internet to formally announce the existence of the carrier.
Political considerations were also behind the announcement.
On July 21, Beijing formally approved guidelines to heighten the effectiveness of an action declaration that includes a call for peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the East Sea with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
By confirming possession of the aircraft carrier, China can demonstrate that it has a dominant naval presence in relation to Southeast Asian countries and stake out an advantageous position before formal negotiations begin.
The Chinese military will begin working toward the launching of the first domestic-made aircraft carrier in 2014. Last year, a company affiliated with the military based in Shenyang, Liaoning province, manufactured a prototype of the Jian-15 fighter jet that will be loaded on the aircraft carrier.
After training pilots to land and take off from aircraft carriers at runways constructed in Xingcheng, Liaoning province, and Xian, Shaanxi province, the military is expected to carry out additional training on the Varyag.
Meanwhile, in his state of the nation address July 25, Philippine President Benigno Aquino indicated that his government would move quickly to bolster its military capabilities.
The Philippines recently purchased a large Hamilton-class cutter from the United States, but Aquino indicated that the nation would strengthen its naval capabilities by also purchasing other vessels, helicopters and aircraft.
He also said that the Philippines might take up the territorial dispute with China at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.