NAVAL WAR COLLEGE REVIEW
helicopter, developed by a joint venture of Italian, French, German, Dutch, and Por- tuguese corporations.95 This prospect would be greatly strengthened if Europe’s post-Tiananmen arms embargo were to be further weakened or lifted in the near fu- ture. In any case, the state of China’s rotary-wing capability and inventory will likely serve as a leading indicator of any substantial helicopter carrier initiatives.
The long PRC record of avowedly defensive military development, recently strained by China’s rising comprehensive national power and Japanese national- ism, suggests that Beijing would carefully weigh the costs and benefits of deploy- ing so explicit a concept of force projection as a large-deck aircraft carrier.96 Other methods and platforms might accomplish many of the same ends without alienating neighboring countries. Submarines are less conspicuous than many other major naval platforms. Diesel submarines may be interpreted as defensive in nature. Sea mines, better still, are often invisible even to foreign militaries.97 Perhaps that is one reason—aside from survivability and cost-effectiveness— why China has recently placed so much emphasis on these platforms. Aircraft carriers, by contrast, are impossible to hide; even to some Chinese leaders they connote gunboat diplomacy and imperialism, particularly in an East Asia still consumed by memories of Japan’s bloody attempts to rule it.98 In fact, it is for precisely these reasons that the Japanese refer to the Osumi as an LST. The Japa- nese public could also become alarmed by Chinese carrier development and be stimulated to support constitutional revision, increased military spending, and even nuclear weapons development. Any form of an arms race with so capable and strategically situated a nation as Japan is clearly something that China would prefer to avoid. These are not reasons why China would never develop air- craft carriers, but they do suggest that China will do so only cautiously and with full cognizance of opportunity and contingency costs.
No doubt these issues have engendered substantial debate within China’s civil- ian and military leadership, debate reflected at least in part by the diverse opinions of Chinese analysts in open sources. Perhaps some of the rumors and activities that make the question of Chinese aircraft carrier development so fascinating can be ascribed to just such a process. If and when China does embark on an unmis- takable course of acquisition, we can expect to see sophisticated attempts to ex- plain why China’s carriers are different from, and serve different purposes than, their Japanese, Soviet, and American predecessors or their Indian, Japanese, Thai, American, and European contemporaries. Whatever carrier China does manage to deploy will likely be framed within peaceful rhetoric. “Our purpose in manu- facturing aircraft carrier(s) is not to compete with the United States or the [for- mer] Soviet Union, but rather to meet the demands of the struggle [to recover] Taiwan, to solve the Spratly Islands disputes and to safeguard [China’s] maritime rights and interests,” Liu Huaqing emphasized in his memoirs. “In peace time,