Singapore writer queries China's justifications for acquiring an aircraft carrier

As China deployed its first aircraft carrier for an inaugural sea trial, Defense ministry spokesman Colonel Geng Yansheng stressed that the carrier would be used for "research, experiment and training" and would not affect China's defensive naval strategy. Across the region, however, the deployment has triggered concern. Japan, for example, asked Beijing to explain the rationale behind the carrier, given that the warship is "highly manoeuvrable and offensive".

Writing in Singapore's Straits Times, senior journalist William Choong commented that "concerns about the Shi Lang, as the carrier has been reportedly named after a Qing-era commander who conquered Taiwan, centre on the context of China's carrier development and its current behaviour."

  • When it was purchased in 1998, Beijing said that the carrier would be a "floating casino". Last week, China's Defence Ministry punted further, stating officially for the first time that it would go on a sea trial - a prelude to an operational deployment.
  • The acquisition cannot be divorced from regional perceptions about China's recent assertive behaviour over the South China Sea ... PLA Daily correspondent Guo Jianyue added to the well of suspicion by saying that the carrier could be used to settle territorial disputes.
  • China has argued that carriers could be used for "soft power" missions such as humanitarian assistance [but] carriers - particularly those with fixed-wing aircraft - are inherently offensive platforms.
  • China's contention that the carrier is part of its defensive strategy [but] China has often argued that even offensive moves are consistent with its defensive doctrine. 

"Lastly, Mr Guo's contention that the carrier could be used to settle territorial disputes represents official thinking, given that the PLA Daily is a state-run paper," Mr Choong noted.