Potemkin carrier?

Ludwig von Gress

Somebody suggested that my Chinese provocation article on Fog of Chaos frightened the Chinese politburo and instead of Diaoyu Dao named their first ever aircraft carrier Liaodong, somewhat inoffensive, but perhaps prescient name. I am too modest to claim the credit, though I am sure that the Most Deserving Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Hussain Obama had nothing to do with it either. Had the Politburo asked me, I would have advised against it anyway. I guess they read neither von Gress nor their own history. Maybe the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution did destroy all the books, but that is no excuse, the Leftipedia is still left.

Liaoning province is located in the southern part of China’s Northeast. At various stages of its history, it was ruled by people such as the Korean kingdoms Gojoseon, Goguryeo, Balhae, the Chinese as Yan, Han Dynasty, and the Nomadic peoples as Donghu, Xianbei, Khitan and Jurchen. Three years after the expulsion of the Mongols from Peking the Ming Empire took control of Liaoning. Around 1442, a defense wall was constructed to defend the north-western frontier of the province from a potential threat from the Jurched-Mongol Oriyanghan (who were Ming’s tributaries). In 1467-68 the wall was expanded to protect the region from the north-east as well, against attacks from Jianzhou Jurchens (who were later to become known as the Manchu people). Although similar in purpose to the Great Wall of China, this “Liaodong Wall” was of a lower-cost design. While stones and tiles were used in some parts, most of the wall was in fact simply an earth dike with moats on both sides. [wikipedia]

Is Liaoning aircraft carrier just a lower-cost iron dike with moats on all sides? A Claytons Sea Wall or a Potemkin floating village? A big gamble? [Floating casino called ShiLang] Despite the Liaodong Wall, the Ming Liaodong was conquered by the Manchus in the early 17th century, decades before the rest of China fell to them.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao attended the ceremony in Dalian, the port city where the carrier was refurbished. The national television news broadcast showed Mr. Hu presiding over the ceremony while wearing the Mao-style suit. Mr. Wen said putting the aircraft carrier into service would “be of great and far-reaching significance in inspiring patriotism, national spirit and driving national defense technologies. It will also be of great significance in enhancing national defense power and the country’s comprehensive strength.”

I ought to mention here that some senior Chinese official claimed, obviously for the benefit of Australian journalists, and others similarly intellectually challenged, that the aircraft carrier will only serve the “research and training purposes”. He did not mention sustainability, pandas, world peace, whales and the climate change, sure in the knowledge that The Age, ABC and The Sydney Morning Herald will do the job in due course.

According to some military experts, Liaoning is at least several years away from minimal combat readiness. Chinese fighter pilots are yet to learn skills needed for taking off and landing on a moving deck. An aircraft carrier also needs a significant number of protective vessels. For example, at the minimum, US Navy likes to surround one carrier by at least one cruiser, a destroyer squadron of at least two destroyers or frigates, logistics ships, a supply ship and a submarine. However, the US Navy intelligence reports a rise in overall numbers of Chinese naval vessels in recent years and estimates that the Chinese navy possesses about 75 principal surface combatants, like destroyers and frigates, and around 60 submarines. China’s military spending in 2012 is forecast to rise to 670.2 billion yuan (about $106 billion), an 11.2% jump over spending a year earlier, according to government figures. (See bellow)

Beside the currently medially fashionable dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, China is also involved in potentially volatile disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and others over natural resources rich waters of the South China Sea. In September 2012, in the Asian name-game, Philippine President Benigno Aquino issued Administrative Order 29, which officially renames the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea on national maps. The order will be submitted to the United Nations, and aims to solidify Manila’s claims to disputed maritime territories lying within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Chinese and Philippine naval vessels “met” there earlier this year. In the meantime, Vietnam, trusting the Chinese as ever, decided to buy six more submarines from Russia.

It may be premature to add Communist China to the list of nine countries which actually operate aircraft carriers (USA, Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Russia, India, Italy, Brazil and Thailand) as Liaoning is not operational. However, it is only a matter of time. The Chinese have been habitually understating their military expenditure. Officially, China is the world’s second-largest military spender with annual budget of $106 billion in 2012 and scheduled budget of $129 billion in 2015. Recently, somewhat surprisingly, have started playing down their naval capabilities. “Show weakness when you are weak, so that enemy will think you are strong”? Perhaps they do not want their maritime neighbours to panic, run for help to gweilos and re-arm. Perhaps the Chinese military and political leaders have different, in short term conflicting, agendas.

In any case it seems that what the “experts” were pleased to call the Chinese “charm offensive” i.e. take-over by the economic aid and cultural exchange, is, at least for the immediate neighbours, over. A quarter of century of pretending you are a nice guy would tire even Confucius. A take-over by trade (a la Australia)[Fog of Chaos – Tic tac time] and by economic aid (a la East Timor) is of course still on.

Whether the Liaoning of the Chinese Navy’s, formerly Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is for real, or whether it is just a Potemkin bark, only time will tell. Given the China’s economic difficulties it could be uncomfortably soon.

About Ludwig von Gress

Born in communist Europe, interested in defence matters on a macro scale, with a cavalry “devil may care spirit” from his grandfather and cautious effectiveness of asymmetric warfare approach from his guerilla father. He sometimes despairs that he may be the only one taking the defence of Australia seriously.
This entry was posted in Communism, History, Military and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Potemkin carrier?

  1. Tomson says:

    The Western powers ignore Communist Chinese agressive expansion – so, will they not deserve what is coming to them? When ever the stupidity and cowardice was rewarded?

  2. Gowet says:

    It is about time to stop China. Waiting for her disintegration could mean a generation living in slavery.

  3. Griffey says:

    Very good blog. China deserves what is coming to her.

  4. Kristin says:

    Do not get distracted by a magician tricks. While they are waving various names around a rusty bucket, attracting attention and getting the commentariat’s colective knickers in a knot, the other hand is probably developing more efective satellite killers, a new strain of influenza or something similar.

  5. Rapido says:

    Thank you for the good writeup. Chinese communists must be in deep trouble, when they provoke so much.

  6. cheap shot says:

    Watching that absolutely hopeless Obama today I’m not surprised that Chinese think they can get away with this. Horror!

  7. Maximowitz says:

    I fear that Obama is a greater danger to the western defense than any obsolete carrier without planes.

  8. yardson says:

    First we have to stop Obama and other things could, hopefully, follow – Iran, China…

  9. Donna B says:

    This posting has been saved as a favorite :), I really like your blog!

  10. Perfect Bour says:

    It is time to stand up to China.

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