NAVAL WAR COLLEGE REVIEW
consider such a role in the future if its helicopter carriers become more sophis- ticated and numerous.
The logic Chinese sources outline for the utility of a small carrier for regional purposes raises the interesting ideas of both a naval “ecosystem” and a modern, regional basis for capital-ship calculations. Chinese calculations of a small car- rier’s utility in regional diplomacy vis-à-vis the Indian navy and the JMSDF are very similar to the logic that Alfred Thayer Mahan used when calculating how many battleships should be posted on America’s West Coast vis-à-vis the Royal Navy, French, and German navies to prevent adventurism on the west coast of South America. In a Chinese context, the idea might be to complicate the calcu- lations of others with claims to the Spratlys or other contested areas. The tactical utility of these platforms as disaster relief sea bases offers a positive spin-off for diplomacy. The idea of a regional naval ecosystem is of great potential impor- tance to the development of a global maritime security network, as the U.S. Navy goes about rendering naval security assistance. All U.S. actions will have second and third order effects on these systems. Awareness of such ramifications will be essential for the conduct of effective Phase Zero (precursor) operations.111
A NEW GOLD STANDARD In their excellent article in the Winter 2004 issue of this journal, You Ji and Ian Storey concluded that
with the retirement of Liu in 1997. . . the aircraft carrier lost its champion in the Chinese navy. At the same time, the need to control the South China Sea as a strategic priority was downgraded as reunification with Taiwan hurtled to the top of Beijing’s agenda. In that context, given the relative closeness of Taiwan and improvements in the capabilities of the Chinese air force and missile arsenal, aircraft carriers are not now considered vital.112
This and similar U.S. Defense Department assessments of recent years that China’s carrier program was sidelined were correct and would likely be con- firmed by senior Chinese officials at the time. Following the 2004 tsunami and especially with the advent of the eleventh five-year plan, however, those priori- ties seem to be changing. What even a modest carrier can do in the near term caught the Chinese by surprise in early 2005, when they watched in horror as In- dian and Japanese carriers conducted post-tsunami relief operations. Thus, in reconceptualizing the PLAN carrier, China’s two potential role models—and competitors—are not the United States and the former Soviet Union but rather India and Japan. Fixating on the global “gold standard” for aircraft carriers is no longer the only, or even the most appealing, option for China. Beijing’s strategic focus on Taiwan militates against developing aircraft carriers, except for small