China’s first aircraft carrier left the port of Dalian for sea trials early Wednesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The vessel is the uncompleted Soviet ship Varyag that China purchased from Ukraine in 1998. The ship, which has not been renamed which Jane’s Fighting Ships says has been renamed the Shi Lang (see more on this below), is undergoing refurbishing. The ship will continue to be refurbished once it returns to port.
The work on the ship will provide China valuable information as they develop their carrier fleet over the next several years.
China has maritime border issues with several states, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has voiced apprehension over the development:
The development of China’s military strength is not only a matter of concern for Japan but for the international community.
Chinese officials have dismissed those concerns.
China is expected to develop several aircraft carriers over the next decade.
UPDATE: A Taiwan angle?
An oddly worded note on the end of a Global Security profile of the ship (it does not fit the tone of the rest of the article) indicates that the apparent name of the new Chinese ship is provocative:
In 1683, Shi Lang, the navy military governor of Fujian, led more than 20,000-men to wipe out the bandits in Taiwan by employing the strategy for the use of force of “first taking Penghu and then Taiwan” and “residing invitation to surrender in annihilation”. The Manchus took possession of the island and made it a district of Fukien Province, which it remained until ceded to the Japanese in 1895. Shi Lang’s military and social influence carried on growing in the decade after his conquest of Taiwan. Shi Lang in his Memorial to the Emperor on Taiwan Issue analyzed the geographical situation of Taiwan, emphasized its strategic importance to the security of the southeast coast and the whole country and expressed his determination to safeguard it and keep it within the territory of China.
Despite that, Taiwan will not likely feel too much presure from the development. Taiwan’s former Deputy Defense Minister Lin Chong-pin gives a simple reason for that:
I don’t think Beijing intends to use Varyag to attack Taiwan because it does not need to do so.
Chinese can launch attacks from Taiwan from land-based missiles and aircraft. Also, China is currently focused on using diplomatic means to isolate Taiwan and force it to acquiesce to Beijing’s rule.
Instead, Lin believes that China’s carrier program is designed to project power to protect overseas interests, improve China’s diplomatic position, and satisfy the emotional and nationalistic needs of Chinese citizens.