China launches aircraft carrier in show of force
CHINA HAS launched its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, underlining its advance as an Asian naval power. At the same time state officials met Japanese representatives in an attempt to ease tensions concerning disputed islands.
Tensions mounted during the day when 40 Taiwanese fishing vessels and up to a dozen patrol boats entered waters near the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, triggering an exchange of water cannon fire with Japanese coast guard ships.
It was self-ruled Taiwan’s first foray into the area during the recent crisis. The Japanese government purchased three of the five islands from private owners two weeks ago, prompting anti-Japanese protests across China.
China, Japan and Taiwan all claim the islands, but they are administered by Tokyo. The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and have strategic importance, but behind much of the anger lies a sense of China exercising growing regional clout in the face of what it sees as Japanese nationalism and aggression.
At a meeting in Beijing, vice-foreign minister Zhang Zhijun told his Japanese counterpart, vice-foreign minister Chikao Kawai, that China would not tolerate any efforts to violate its sovereignty.
“Japan must banish illusions, undertake searching reflection and use concrete actions to amend its errors, returning to the consensus and understandings reached between our two countries’ leaders,” said Mr Zhang.
During the talks, the Xinhua news agency issued a strongly worded White Paper from the Chinese cabinet, the state council.
“China’s will to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity is firm and its resolve to uphold the outcomes of the World Anti-Fascist War will not be shaken by any force,” stated the White Paper.
Yesterday was also marked by delivery of the aircraft carrier, a refurbished Soviet naval vessel formerly known as the Varyag. It began sea trials in August last year and the announcement had been widely flagged. The ship is not expected to be combat-ready for some time.
China has downplayed the carrier’s significance, saying it was the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council without an aircraft carrier. But the timing is a reminder by China that it can flex its new military muscle in the region if needs be.
The background to the dispute is that Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government faces an election in months, making it imperative not to appear weak in the face of Chinese pressure.
Meanwhile, China’s ruling Communist Party is facing a tense, once-in-a-decade leadership transition, with President Hu Jintao due to step down next month.