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however, he had declared to a group of Western academics that there was an in- ternal political and military consensus that China had no intention of develop- ing an aircraft carrier. When asked to explain this apparent contradiction, the official stated that over the past two years the subject of aircraft carrier develop- ment has become a “heated internal debate”in Beijing as Chinese national inter- ests have grown, sea lines of communication have become ever more important, the need to rescue Chinese citizens overseas has become increasingly apparent, and “air coverage” is viewed as an essential component of “balanced naval forces.”7

China has made great progress in many dimensions necessary to sup- port the development of aircraft car- riers, though in some areas it is unclear whether substantial efforts have been made at all. The PLAN’s submarine program is far ahead of its carrier (CV) program. In India, by contrast, the CV program is far ahead of the ballistic-missile sub- marine (SSBN) program; Spain, Ja- pan, and Thailand have carriers though they lack SSBNs entirely, whereas the United Kingdom and France deploy both carriers and SSBNs. The Chinese literature notes all of these potential force structure models and the disparities in capabilities and experience between not merely the PLAN and the world’s leading navies, but most notably between the PLAN and its re- gional peers, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Indian navy. In that literature the discussion of submarines, both as machines and as operational and strategic platforms, is much more advanced and grounded in reality than that of carriers—which is still notional, if not romantic, and largely comprises rather generic analyses of possible ship-configuration options.8 Cer- tainly, there is logic, reinforced by the German and Japanese examples, in not playing to the adversary’s strength. If the greater payoff is to be found in an asymmetric “silver bullet” or “assassin’s mace” that SS/SSNs or mine warfare seem to offer, why should Beijing invest in a war-fighting specialty—that is, power-projection carrier operations—in which the PLAN is so clearly out- m a t c h e d b y t h e U . S . N a v y a n d t h a t a p p e a r s i l l s u i t e d t o C h i n a s o v e r a l l d e f e n s i v posture?9 Pierside view of ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev at Binhai Aircraft Carrier museum in Tianjin, China. e


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