NAVAL WAR COLLEGE REVIEW
The enterprise of China’s ocean development has a splendid history dating back to [Ming Dynasty Admiral] Zheng He’s seven voyages to the West. But its previous feu- d a l r u l e r s l o c k e d t h e i r d o o r s a g a i n s t t h e w o r l d . T h e y f e t t e r e d t h e C h i n e s e N a t i o n ’ vigorous ocean-based development. This included especially the Ming and Qing [dy- nasties’] severe prohibition of maritime [focus] for over 400 years. This repeatedly caused the Chinese Nation to miss favorable opportunities [that would have stemmed from] developing civilization from the sea. Then the Western gunships bombarded their way through the gate that China’s feudal rulers had locked. Thenceforth, a suc- cession of wars of invasion from the sea visited profound suffering as well as galling shame and humiliation on the Chinese Nation. The beautiful, abundant ocean gave forth only sorrow and tears.58 s
Chinese interlocutors often tell Westerners that “a nation cannot become a great power without having an aircraft carrier.” Lt. Gen. Wang Zhiyuan, deputy director of the PLA General Armament Department’s Science and Technology Commission, stated in a 2006 interview that the PLA “will conduct research and build aircraft car- riers on its own, and develop its own carrier fleet. Aircraft carriers are a very impor- tant tool available to major powers when they want to protect their maritime rights and interests. As China is such a large country with such a long coastline and we want to protect our maritime interests, aircraft carriers are an absolute neces- sity.”59 Zhang’s conception of China as facing both challenges and opportunities from the sea is prevalent among Chinese analysts.60
Carrier acquisition can also be seen as part of regional power competition. When the Japanese deploy their larger version of the Osumi-class LST, or when the Indian navy puts a refurbished Gorshkov to sea, the Chinese may be com- pelled to accelerate their carrier program to maintain the appearance of a great power. But this is more than simply an issue of face. Showing the flag is impor- tant, but as Japan itself maintains, some form of carrier is needed for peace- keeping operations, as well as for humanitarian intervention and for defense of vital and lengthy sea lines of communication.
This unique role for aircraft carriers was demonstrated by the 2004 tsunami, after which the PLAN found itself on the outside looking in, especially com- pared to the U.S. Navy, but more painfully to the Indian navy and, even more un- bearably, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).61 An article in the PLAN publication Dangdai Haijun (Modern Navy) assessed that Japan’s “first dispatch of a warship overseas [for] search and rescue . . . demonstrated its status
as a ‘great power of disaster relief.’” The article noted that the U.S. “dispatched [the Abraham Lincoln] carrier battle group to the rescue” and that India’s “navy served as the daring vanguard.” It concludes, “The rescue activities following the Indian Ocean tsunami abundantly illustrated that the use of armed forces is not only to prevent conflict or to wage wars, but also brings into play the key actions