Is China a little girl or a big strapping lad?

By Du Yanghong
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, May 15, 2011
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It will not be long before the world sees China's first aircraft carrier set out on its sea trials. But not everyone is enthused. Phoenix TV commentator Ma Dingsheng recently gave an interview during which he said an aircraft carrier would be of little use, because ''China is not a global naval power.'' Even a traditional naval power like Britain does not think it is worth spending billions on a carrier, Ma said. For China to build an aircraft carrier would be like a little girl driving a giant Hummer – simply not appropriate.

Ma's comments made me feel as if I was living in a different age. Was he talking about today or twenty years ago? Is it really true that China is not a major naval power? China is the world factory. In 2010 its manufacturing industry overtook the United States to become world number one. China has overtaken Germany to become the world's biggest exporter. Chinese industrial goods sail to every country in the world and in return the natural resources and products of all countries are shipped to Chinese harbors. For seven straight years the Chinese ports have topped the world in terms of tonnage. Of the world's top ten ports, eight are Chinese. Every year China adds half a billion tons of port capacity, equivalent to building a new Shanghai harbor. China's shipbuilding industry has the world's healthiest order book. Its ocean-going fleet sails to all corners of the world. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon revealed recently that China is to build a railway linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, rivaling the Panama canal. In February and March China evacuated more than 30,000 of its citizens from Libya. Given all this, one could reasonably conclude that China is the world's top naval power.

And Ma is also wrong to say the British think aircraft carriers are no longer necessary. Don't they need one to protect the Malvinas? And aren't carriers necessary to conduct the war in Libya? Anyway as everyone knows, Britain is currently building the carrier Queen Elizabeth. Of course not everyone in the UK is in favor, but this is not because they think carriers are useless, but because military budgets are tight. The long-term decline of the British economy combined with the financial crisis mean the UK can no longer maintain previous levels of military spending. When the carrier is complete they may not have the funds to equip it with aircraft. To avoid the embarrassment of a ''naked aircraft carrier'' Britain is thinking of swallowing its pride and asking France to provide the aircraft. It may well come to that.

The US is also short of funds. On February 11, the Defense News website claimed Congressional deadlock over the budget meant the navy had to postpone essential repairs and scale down plans to build Virginia class submarines and coastal defense surface ships. At the beginning of April, the US government was facing shutdown because of the deadlock between the two parties in Congress. The threat faded, but the economic and financial crisis remains severe. In 2011 the US government budget deficit will exceed US$1.5 trillion, equivalent to more than 10 percent of GDP. And cumulative national debt is around US$14 trillion, close to 100 percent of GDP. The impact of the financial and economic crisis on the US military is set to continue.

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