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    Greater China
     Jan 8, 2008
China navy floats three-carrier plan
By Russell Hsiao

On December 31, a Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Pao cited a report that no one in the Western media has detected concerning a Jane's Defence Weekly article which reported that China has plans to develop three-carrier battle groups over the next decade.

News about this development has been widely discussed in the Hong Kong and Taiwanese press. Citing Jane's, Wen Wai Pao reported that as a part of its carrier battle group plans the People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) intends to establish an even stronger submarine fleet; having added 20 nuclear-powered submarines in the past five years, increasing the total number of



submarines to 55. The report indicated that the PLAN currently has 70 destroyers and frigates, 50 dock-landing ships and 45 coastal warships.

Taiwanese news sources highlighted Gordon Jacobs, a Chinese military analyst based in the United States - whose report on the modernization of China's navy in the Jane's report was one of the sources for the report - as stating that if the Chinese government contracted for the construction of the carrier groups in 2006, then it is possible for the first battle carrier group to break water as early as 2011, be in service in 2014, and by 2016 be accompanied by a second service-ready aircraft carrier group.

Jacobs cited Chen Yung-kang, an official in Taiwan's Ministry of Defense, who during a presentation at a defense conference held in Taiwan in 2006 argued that Taiwan needed submarines to strengthen its defense capability against China's quickly expanding naval power and its plan to develop two battle carrier groups by 2020. Chen added that the Soviet-made Varyag Carrier was being upgraded and repaired at Dalian in Northeastern China, and being prepared for training use.

The Chinese government is still tight-lipped about its plans for the former Soviet aircraft carrier which is now dry docked in Dalian and painted in standard PLAN gray. Taiwanese experts believe that the PLAN intends to activate the carrier as a part of its three-carrier battle group plan.

In 2007, Chinese government sources admitted for the first time that Beijing is researching and capable of building an aircraft carrier, as stated by Huang Qiang, a spokesman for the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense of China (CSTIND). Furthermore, Zhang Yunchuan, the CSTIND chairman, said last March that China was indeed researching the building of aircraft carriers: "China stands for strategic active defense and, even when it owns aircraft carriers, it will definitely not intrude into or occupy any other nation or resort to force with the use of carrier vessels," Zhang said.

On December 4, 2007, during a meeting with a visiting US delegation headed by US Representative Eni Faleomavaega, chairman of the sub-committee on Asia, The Pacific, and the Global Environment in the US House of Representatives, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian asserted that China was planning to design an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) within the Taiwan Strait. Chen alleged that Beijing planned to submit the proposal to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and at the same time, Beijing planned to inaugurate a new air route on the Chinese side of the median of the Taiwan Straits.

According to Joseph Wu - Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the United States - in early December, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China issued a press release stating that the Central Military Commission and the State Council had approved the route and flights would run some 4.2 nautical miles (7.8 kilometers) west of the centerline.

The Taiwanese government claims that since approval for the bid had to be attained from the Central Military Commission, which has authority over China's civilian aviation and airspace, China's bid to the ICAO to operate on Taiwan's side of the strait can be construed as a militarily provocative move, as it also gives them the ability to deny access to foreign aircraft in the area.

China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang repeatedly denied any knowledge of China's plan to establish an ADIZ within the Taiwan Strait.

In related news, citing Taiwanese military sources that Japanese government sources later confirmed, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun revealed that Chinese Hong-6 bombers from the Huaining air force base in Anhui province conducted military maneuvers in areas of the East China Sea in September 2007, the route covered areas that are jointly enclosed by the Taiwan Strait Air Defense Identification Zone and the Japan Air Defense Identification Zone. The Hong-6 bombers reportedly made 20 sorties to the area on September 11 and 23, which forced Japanese F4 fighter jets based at Naha base in Okinawa Prefecture to respond by conducting a total of 12 sorties along the routes.

In an interview with Kensuke Ebata, a subject matter expert on defense and military affairs in Tokyo and member of the Japanese Security Export Control Committee, Asahi Shimbun reported Ebata as saying:
Hong-6 bombers can carry long-range air-to-sea missiles ... So it is possible for the bombers to attack vessels at sea. Personally, I think the bomber pilots were undergoing a training exercise under the scenario of blocking the arrival of US aircraft carriers in Taiwan in the event of an emergency situation there. The flights may also have been aimed at trying to contain US forces following large-scale maneuvers near Guam in August under a scenario that the United States was at war with China.


Russell Hsiao is the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation.

(This article first appeared in The Jamestown Foundation. Used with permission.)

(Copyright 2007 The Jamestown Foundation.)


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