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[aircraft carriers] could be used to maintain world peace, thereby expanding our international political influence.”99 Like other aspects of Chinese maritime devel- opment, it will likely be imbued with shades of the Zheng He metaphor, “peace- ful” voyages of discovery and goodwill commanded by the fifteenth-century eunuch admiral.100 A recent series in China’s official navy newspaper to commem- orate the six hundredth anniversary of Zheng He’s voyages emphasized precisely these factors.101 In fact, Chinese commentators make the case that while China has historically been able to build great ships, it has never used them to dictate terms to others.102 For instance, the senior Chinese official we interviewed in mid-2006
emphasized that “a Chinese aircraft carrier would not be used to seek hegemony.”103 While the merits of such claims are open to debate, they do hint at one way in which naval power is conceptualized in the con- temporary PRC. In a more immedi- ate sense, U.S., Japanese, Indian, and Thai operations in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami have convinced many Chinese that good carriers make good neighbors and that they are a necessity if China’s force struc- ture available for deployment to Southeast Asia is to match and com- plement its diplomatic initiatives.104 In May 1998, for instance, Shichang visited Sydney, Australia, with the de- stroyer Qingdao and the hospital ship Nancang.105 This was part of a larger mis- sion of Shichang and fellow training ship Zheng He—to “reveal the graceful bearing of a new generation of PLAN officers, spread the arena of friendship, understand the world, open the window of a [new] a field of vision, increase experience, [and become] a study platform” by visiting over sixty sea areas and ports, including Hawaii and Vladivostok.106 Shichang has also visited New Zea- land and the Philippines.107 It is designed specifically to deploy to “disaster areas.” Under Captain Wang Gexin, its hospital unit has also participated in domestic flood relief efforts.108 Shichang conducted a “national defense mobi- lization drill” near Xiamen on 28 July 1999.109 Shichang has proved capable of long-distance open-ocean navigation. In July–August 1999 “it carr[ied] out at-sea defense drills, [the] largest, furthest, and longest in PLAN history.”110 Perhaps Shichang was not deployed to help with tsunami relief in 2004 because it is indispensable to PLAN training. If that is the case, maybe China would The Kiev museum includes a display describing the carrier’s distinctively large towed sonar body. This illustrates how Soviet carrier design developed very differently from its Western counterparts, raising the fundamental question of how such design elements have influenced Chinese thinking with respect to deck aviation platforms.