Although, as the navy said, the trial is only to test the reliability and capacity of its propulsion system, the maiden sea trials of China’s first domestically designed aircraft carrier on Sunday morning stirred the emotions of many Chinese.
Since its doors were forced open from the outside by Western navies in the late 19th century, it has been a dream for China to have a strong navy, so that there will be no repeat of the gunboat diplomacy and seaborne humiliations of the past.
Although it is not the latest-generation carrier technology, “Type 001A”, as the vessel is currently known, is endogenously designed and built. Expected to be commissioned by 2020, it embodies both China’s self-reliance, the industrial and technological progress it has made, and the degree to which its naval capabilities have progressed.
As President Xi Jinping said last month when conducting a review in the South China Sea, notable progress has been made in modernizing the country’s navy. The new carrier reinforces his message that the Chinese navy has “stood up in the East” with a brand new image. However, it still has a long way to go.
But that does not mean, as the sniping of some would have people believe, that the carrier is intended as a means with which to grab overseas interests. Rather, it is a means to prevent China’s national interests from being encroached upon.
Although the Chinese navy has developed rapidly in both size and quality over the past five years, the abuse and menace that are regularly directed the country’s way means it would be remiss for it not to have the means to urge caution.
Nor should the expanded role the navy is being asked to play be dismissed. As well as the inshore defense that has been its mission for decades and the safeguarding of the country’s territorial integrity, it also has to be able to protect the country’s development interests including its trade routes and Chinese citizens working overseas.
As the world’s second-largest economy, China is taking increasing responsibility for maintaining world peace and protecting the world economy. This also requires the country to have a strong navy, which will enable it to do whatever it can to respond to any humanitarian and rescue emergency.