China’s citizens overwhelmingly back plans to launch the country’s first aircraft carrier, despite most also believing it could trigger an arms race in Asia, according to a Chinese newspaper poll released.
The Global Times said almost 80 percent of respondents in the survey wanted China to launch a carrier, although 56.5 percent thought such a move would increase risks of an arms race in Asia or with other countries, including the United States.
Chinese military and political sources have said Beijing could launch its first aircraft carrier in 2011, using a refitted ex-Soviet craft. Such a launch would be a first, exploratory step towards an operational carrier fleet, Reuters reports.
“Safeguarding territorial integrity and fending off invasions at sea were ranked as the top reasons for China to develop aircraft carriers (77.8 percent),” the Global Times, a popular nationalist tabloid, said.
The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence had estimated the Varyag, which a Chinese firm bought from the Ukraine in 1998 for $20 million, would be launched as a training platform by 2012, and that China will have an operational domestically built carrier after 2015.
China would be the third Asian country to have a carrier after India and Thailand, and while the launch of a single carrier would have little immediate strategic effect, it could boost military pride at home and jitters abroad.
In a telephone poll of 1,166 people in seven Chinese cities conducted by the tabloid, 14.2 percent of respondents said a Chinese carrier made the possibility of an arms race “extremely high,” while 42.3 percent said it was a “definite possibility.”
An aircraft carrier would “shore up China’s overall military power,” 81.3 percent of supporters said, while 50.9 percent said it would serve as a counterbalance to the U.S. and contain its “hegemony.”
In March, China’s military said it faced an increasingly “volatile” Asian region where the United States has expanded its strategic footprint.
The government has also confirmed tests of its first stealth fighter jet.
Many experts believe China’s actual spending on the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is far higher than what the government reports.
China, now the world’s second-largest economy, often points out that its defence spending pales in comparison with the United States and that its military upgrades are for defensive purposes.