I’m frequently astonished by how crazy foreign media outlets get when they talk about the Chinese military buildup. To be sure, the PLA is enhancing its capabilities in a number of ways. But the kind of over the top hysteria you catch from media outlets would give you a pretty warped picture of what’s going on here. For example, fears about China threatening America’s naval dominance come from the purchase of… one aircraft carrier. One. The only one China has. And if you listen to Wired, it doesn’t even sound that scary as aircraft carriers go:
Just how worried should the world be?
The answer depends on who you ask. To China’s closest neighbors, the prospect of a carrier speeding heavily-armed Chinese jet fighters across the world’s oceans is an alarming one. But the U.S. Navy, the world’s leading carrier power and arguably the Chinese navy’s biggest rival, seems oddly unaffected.
There are good reasons for the Pentagon’s calm. For starters, Shi Lang, pictured above, could be strictly a training carrier, meant to pave the way for bigger, more capable carriers years or decades in the future.
But even if she is meant for combat, there’s probably little reason to fear Shi Lang. A close study of the 990-foot-long vessel — plus the warships and airplanes she’ll sail with — reveals a modestly-sized carrier lacking many of the elements that make U.S. flattops so powerful.
When Shi Lang finally gets underway in coming months, she will boost the ability of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to patrol airspace over contested sea zones, provided they’re not too far from the Chinese mainland. And more to the point, she’ll look good doing it. “I think the change in perception by the region will be significant,” Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific forces, told the Senate in April.
Willard said he is “not concerned” about the ship’s military impact.
There’s certainly significance to the PLA buildup, but let’s not hyperventilate too much about one modest aircraft carrier, alright? This is pretty far down the list of reasons to be concerned about China.