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China vs. The World: Race for Naval Supremacy Intensifies

Daniel Kim Views  

Xinhua-Yonhap News

As reported by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on June 3, China’s expansion of aircraft carrier operations is stoking anxiety among neighboring countries such as South Korea and Japan, fanning the flames of an arms race.

Currently, China operates two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, and recently held a commissioning ceremony for its third, the Fuzhou. Experts suggest that in response to China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region, following the launch of the Fuzhou, its first catapult aircraft carrier, countries like India, Japan, and South Korea are strengthening their naval capabilities.

Fuzhou, China’s first catapult aircraft carrier, was designed and built domestically and has a displacement of about 80,000 tons. Unlike the ski-jump aircraft take-off method of the first carrier, Liaoning, and the second carrier, Shandong, Fuzhou adopted an electromagnetic catapult, allowing it to launch aircraft more frequently.

China aims to have six aircraft carriers by the end of 2035, making it the second-largest in the world after the United States, which operates 11 carriers. Former Indian naval officer C. Uday Bhaskar said, “China is seen as a source of anxiety by some Asian nations, including India. There is concern about China’s revisionist agenda, which can rapidly morph into a threat.”

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh announced last month that India plans to start building its third aircraft carrier soon. Analysts say a third aircraft carrier is essential for the Indian Navy to compete with China’s capabilities. Bhaskar, director at the New Delhi-based Society for Policy Studies think tank and an honorary fellow of India’s National Maritime Foundation, explained, “Japan and South Korea were seeking ways to engage Beijing to establish a practical and peaceful coexistence.”

Japan unveiled upgrades to its first aircraft carrier, the Kaga, in April, following the completion of its first modification for the operation of the stealth fighter F-35B. The Kaga, which started as a helicopter carrier, can now carry 12 fighters and 16 helicopters after modification. The Japanese government has stated in its 2018 Defense Program Guidelines that it will essentially operate its two Izumo-class ships as aircraft carriers to enhance surveillance and air defense posture in an emergency. The Kaga is expected to undergo additional modifications to its hull in 2026-27 to support its fixed-wing fighter aircraft carrier role.

South Korea announced plans to build its first aircraft carrier capable of operating short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B fighters in its 2021-2025 national plan. However, the plan has been delayed, and the aircraft carrier project was not included in the 2024-2028 mid-term defense blueprint, according to the SCMP. Alexander Hynd, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of New South Wales, explained, “The US has historically provided naval power in the US-South Korea alliance, expecting South Korea to focus on land-based military capabilities.”

Walter Ladwig, a senior international relations lecturer at King’s College London, said, “If countries were feeling seriously threatened, there would be a massive expansion of submarine acquisition programmes across Asia. This pursuit of aircraft carriers appears driven more by a desire for prestige and the trappings of great power status rather than purely military utility.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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