PLA FLAG OFFICERS DIFFER ON CHINA’S AIRCRAFT CARRIER DEVELOPMENT
At the recent Fifth Session of the 10th National People’s Congress held in Beijing, an admiral from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation claimed, off-the-record, that China has already begun the research and development (R&D) of an indigenously built aircraft carrier and could complete its construction by 2010. In his comments to the PRC-owned Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, the admiral further insisted that China reserved the right to develop an aircraft carrier and lambasted those countries (read: the United States) who criticized China’s growing maritime capabilities (Wen Wei Po, March 19). Yet when other flag officers of the delegation were asked to comment upon the issue, the majority of them either denied that there was an aircraft carrier in the R&D pipelines or refused to answer the question altogether. General Zhou Kunren, a former vice admiral and political commissar of the PLA Navy, flatly rebuffed the claims, stating that a Chinese aircraft carrier was simply a myth.
Past statements by high-ranking Chinese officials as well as advancements in China’s maritime power projection capabilities, however, seem to suggest that China intends to develop an aircraft carrier in the near-term, if it has not already begun to do so. In August 2005, PLA Navy deputy commander Admiral Zhang Xusan declared that China, as a major naval power in the region, would soon begin developing its own aircraft carrier. The following year in October, the assistant chairman of China’s National Defense Science and Technology Committee, Sun Laixi, made similar statements, arguing that given China’s long coastline, the development of an aircraft carrier seemed only logical. Just one month later, reports emerged that China had procured two Su-33 advanced fighters, the carrier-borne variant of the Russian Su-27, for flight tests and would ultimately purchase 50 Su-33 fighters (Sankei Shimbun, November 6, 2006).
FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS FOR LIFTING THE EU ARMS EMBARGO
As the final leg of her Northeast Asian tour that included stops in Japan and South Korea, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie visited China from March 18-19. During her time in Beijing, Alliot-Marie held meetings with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Guo Boxiong and President Hu Jintao. Following her meeting with Hu, Alliot-Marie defended China’s recent 17.8 percent defense budget increase as reasonable and stated that, as a proportion of China’s GDP, the budget was “far less than [those of] equivalent countries in the region” (AFP, March 19). In a joint statement with General Guo, Alliot-Marie also pledged to further strengthen the bilateral military relations between the two countries “by way of reciprocal visits, information exchanges [and] inspecting and learning from each other’s military exercises” (Xinhua, March 19). Reiterating her comments in Tokyo where she had stated, “The ban is nothing but a political and psychological thing,” Alliot-Marie also called for the lifting of the EU arms embargo during her talks with reporters in Beijing. The embargo, she argued, would only hinder the deepening of China-EU relations (Xinhua March 20). Together with Germany, France has been one of the staunchest advocates of lifting the EU arms embargo that was first imposed following the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.