China sparks aircraft carrier scare, but says it will be ‘defensive’

November 17th, 2008 - 6:46 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 17 (IANS) Refusing to scotch speculation that China is building one or more aircraft carriers, a senior Chinese defence ministry official has said if and when such a warship is built it will be used for defensive purposes.”The question is not whether you have an aircraft carrier, but what you do with your aircraft carrier,” Major General Qian Lihua, a senior official with the ministry of defence, said in comments published here Monday.

“Navies of great powers with more than 10 aircraft carrier battle groups with strategic military objectives have a different purpose from countries with only one or two carriers used for offshore defence,” he told the Financial Times.

“Even if one day we have an aircraft carrier, unlike another country, we will not use it to pursue global deployment or global reach,” he added, in remark that were interpreted as referring to the US, which has 11 aircraft carriers deployed around the world.

The Pentagon said earlier this year that China was actively engaged in aircraft carrier research and would be able to start building one by the end of this decade.

China has issued repeated hints that it is planning to build an aircraft carrier in recent years, and according to Jane’s Defence Weekly recently began training 50 pilots for fixed-wing carrier-based aircraft.

A South Korean newspaper earlier this year reported that a mid-sized carrier was due to be completed by 2010, and a large nuclear-powered one by 2020, while other analysts say China may already be working on three carriers, but that none is likely to be operational before 2015.

“The navy of any great power has the dream to have one or more aircraft carriers,” Qian said.

Qian also said it was “unreasonable” for Western countries to ask Beijing to increase contributions to peacekeeping missions while maintaining curbs on arms exports imposed in 1989.

“US and EU (European Union) countries on one hand ask us to send more troops to peacekeeping operations overseas, while on the other, they still have such arms sales embargoes on China. I think that is quite unreasonable,” he said.

According to the British media, China’s main naval priority is to deter American intervention in any conflict over Taiwan.

However, unlike India, China does not have aircraft carriers because it wants to balance out American concerns over its rapidly increasing submarine fleet targeted at American battle groups.

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