China's first aircraft carrier, known by its Russian name Varyag, is beginning sea trials amidst intense interest and enthusiasm in China.
China's first aircraft carrier set sail for the first time Wednesday, steaming out of the northeastern port of Dalian for a long-awaited sea trial. While the voyage of the ship, known here by its Russian name Varyag, is a source of national pride, it is also raising concerns among China's neighbors.
In the late 1990s, China purchased the empty shell of the aircraft carrier from Ukraine. The vessel was built by the Soviet Union in the 1980s but ownership was transferred to Ukraine after the former communist government collapsed.
Since then, it has been the source of much speculation and discussion in military circles and highly anticipated by military enthusiasts in China.
For the past few weeks, Chinese state television and online military news websites have been following the ship's preparations on a daily basis.
China claims to want to build only a "small number" of carriers but it should be noted that this development comes at a time of increased naval and amphibious capabilities of the Chinse military. While they will probably never be able to challenge the US Naval Strike Forces who are regularly deployed in the region, we are not the target; Taiwan is. A few carriers would give the Chinese a strike capability that would seriously threaten Taiwan's independence. Coupled with their recent upgrades in amphibious assault ships and subs, as well as a growing surface fleet, China will be in a position to seriously threaten Taiwan sometime in the next decade.
Will the US fight to preserve Taiwan independence? We say we will, but I wonder how firm that commitment still is.