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September 9, 2010
China asserts need for a 'carrier killer'
The 2010 annual report from the Secretary of Defense to the Congress on the "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China" was released in late August. One of the more controversial findings in the report was that
China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) based on a variant of the CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). The missile has a range in excess of 1,500 km, is armed with a maneuverable warhead, and when integrated with appropriate command and control systems, is intended to provide the PLA the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.
There has been a lively debate as to whether China really is developing such a weapon, why it would do so, and whether it could be effective. Most of this debate has been among Western military and foreign policy experts. It is useful, however, to consider what the Chinese are saying about the topic. On September 6, the Chinese Communist Party publication Global Times ran an editorial stating quite clearly why Beijing wants such a weapon. It was entitled, "China needs powerful carrier killer." The key points of its argument were,
Such capacity is necessary for an emerging power, and it is necessary infrastructure for China's military modernization.
Since US aircraft carrier battle groups in the Pacific constitute deterrence against China's strategic interests, China has to possess the capacity to counterbalance.
Such capacity could inhibit US thoughts of keeping China in check through aircraft carriers, and therefore greatly reduce the possibility of confrontation between the People's Liberation Army and US military forces in the Western Pacific.
While developing its anti-ship missile capacity, China should also let Westerners know under what circumstances will such weaponry be used.
China should let the world be well aware that no foreign aircraft carrier is allowed to do whatever it wants to do in China's waters.
The last sentence above refers to recent U.S. naval exercises in the East Sea/Sea of Japan and the South China Sea and reportedly planned operations in the Yellow Sea. Beijing has been conducting its own military maneuvers in the East and South China seas and the Yellow Sea in support of its claim that these international sea lanes are actually China's territorial waters.
The DoD report on China notes that Beijing is asserting its own legal doctrine which is "inconsistent with international law" in regard to control of the trade routes and seabed resources of the region. It has long been U.S. policy to sail through international waters to maintain their open status under the doctrine of the "freedom of the seas." China's development of an ASBM capability, with the range to reach out well beyond even its most aggressive claims, indicates that Beijing plans to enforce its own notions of the law of the sea to the detriment of every other nation on the Pacific Rim.