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China gets first aircraft carrier

China gets first aircraft carrier
China launched on Tuesday its first aircraft carrier, propelling its fast expanding navy’s blue-water capability beyond its territorial waters at a time when the neighbourhood is witnessing high-voltage tensions in Sino-Japan ties.

The 60,000 tonne carrier, a former Soviet ship brought from Ukraine and later refurbished locally is named ‘Liaoning’, after a Chinese province liberated from Japanese occupation in 1945, in what can be seen as another symbolic warning to Tokyo.

China’s ties with Japan have plunged over an escalating diplomatic row over disputed islands in the East China Sea, and the country remains embroiled in a number of disputes with countries like the Philippines and Vietnam in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The 300-metre carrier would raise the overall operational strength of the Chinese navy and help China to effectively protect national sovereignty, security and development interests, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The carrier is capable of accommodating 33 fixed wing aircraft, according to the official media here.

China says it is an experimental carrier and plans to construct three more.

According to earlier reports China will be deploying J-15 fighters, stated to be a home made variant of Russia’s Su-33 to operate from the carrier.

The carrier, formerly known as the Soviet ship Varyag, underwent about seven years of refitting efforts to install engines, weapons, as well as a year-long sea trial.

With its commencement China has become the tenth country in the world and the last among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to have an aircraft carrier in active service.

The defence ministry said the vessel will increase China’s capacity to defend itself and ‘cooperate on the high seas in dealing with non-traditional security threats’.

The handing over ceremony was overseen by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao at a naval base in northeast China’s city of Dalian. Both the leaders will be retiring by the end of this year.

Hu, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), endorsed a PLA flag and naming certificate to the naval unit that received the carrier.

The ship will ‘be of great and far-reaching significance in inspiring patriotism, national spirit and driving national defence technologies,’ Wen said, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

‘It will also be of great significance in enhancing national defence power and the country’s comprehensive strength,’ Wen said.

‘China’s development of an aircraft carrier was an important strategic decision made by the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the State Council and the Central Military Commission,’ Wen said.

‘The delivery and commission of the first carrier is a milestone in the PLA’s history and embodies a major achievement of China’s weaponry and equipment development, as well as its national defense modernisation,’ he said.

After the commission ceremony, Hu boarded the Liaoning, which was in full dress, and inspected the Navy’s guard of honour.

The two leaders later came to the carrier’s flight deck and went around cabins where they interacted with sailors, scientists and engineers who developed the carrier.


‘JAPAN’S CLAIM UNFOUNDED’


China published a white paper on Tuesday rejecting Japan’s claim of sovereignty over islands in the East China Sea even as top officials of the two countries held talks for the second day to bring the tensions, which escalated in the recent weeks. ‘Diaoyu Dao (islands), an Inherent Territory of China and claims by Japan fly in the face of facts and are totally unfounded,’ the white paper published by Chinese government said. The islands were called as Senkaku by Japan. Tensions flared up between the two countries after Japan bought the islands from private owners this month, which was staunchly opposed by China. The white paper traces the history of China’s control over the uninhabited islands. The islands are currently under the control of Japan and both the countries deployed their coast guard ships in the waters to assert their sovereignty. ‘Diaoyu Dao belongs to China. It is by no means “terra nullius”. China is the indisputable owner of Diaoyu Dao as it had exercised valid jurisdiction over the island for several hundred years long before the Japanese people ‘‘discovered” it,’ the white paper said.The assertions came as Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and his Japanese counterpart Chikao Kawai held a candid and in-depth exchange of views for the second day to scale down the tensions. Zhang Zhijun pointed out that Diaoyu islands and its affiliated islands have been China’s sacred territory since ancient times, as historical and legal evidences have shown, said the statement.


JAPAN, TAIWAN FIRE WATER CANNON NEAR DISPUTED ISLANDS

Coastguard vessels from Japan and Taiwan duelled with water cannon on Tuesday after dozens of Taiwanese boats escorted by patrol ships sailed into waters around Tokyo-controlled islands.

Japanese coastguard ships sprayed water at the fishing vessels, footage on national broadcaster NHK showed, with the Taiwanese patrol boats directing their own high-pressure hoses at the Japanese ships.

The large-scale breach of what Japan considers sovereign territory – one of the biggest since WWII – is the latest escalation in a row over ownership of the islands that pits Tokyo against Beijing and Taipei.

The intrusion complicates an already volatile territorial dispute with China, which is also locked in a separate row over the strategic South China Sea against claims by several nations including the Philippines.

Adding to the tensions, China’s first aircraft carrier entered service today, marking an expansion of its blue-water fleet that will bolster its military and diplomatic clout.

On Tuesday’s dramatic incident, a dozen Taiwanese coastguard and 40 fishing boats spent several hours in Japanese waters, the Japan Coast Guard said.

Taiwan has said that officers aboard some of the patrol ships sent to the area were fully-armed elite coastguard personnel. ‘We’ll do everything to protect our fishermen. We do not rule out using force to fight back if Japan were to do so,’ Wang Chin-wang, head of the Coast Guard Administration, said in parliament.
K J M Varma

K J M Varma

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