Beijing at sea

Why Delhi cannot ignore the implications of China's maritime rise

As China's lone aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, gets ready to sail in blue waters this year, Asia and the world must come to terms with Beijing's emerging capabilities to project military power far beyond its shores.

Delhi is having enough trouble dealing with the impact of China's rapid military modernisation on its Himalayan borders, as seen in the reported incident in which a unit of the People's Liberation Army set up a post 10 kilometres inside territory claimed by India. But Delhi can't afford to ignore the longer term implications of China's maritime rise.

The Liaoning's first blue-water voyage, after many sea trials in the near seas, was announced in Beijing last week to coincide with the 64th anniversary of the Chinese navy's founding, which was on Tuesday. The Liaoning marks the transformation of the navy from an inconsequential force six decades ago to one that promises to decisively alter the balance of power in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The Chinese navy is leading the dramatic shift in the political goals of China's armed forces. Until now, the PLA has focused on internal security and territorial defence. Now, the Chinese armed forces also aim to protect Beijing's expanding interests beyond borders, influence regional security politics and contribute to international peace.

Nothing represents the political will in Beijing to pursue these new objectives better than the Liaoning. China's first aircraft carrier is also the pride of the Chinese people. It has become a powerful rallying point for Chinese patriotism and a catalyst for self-awareness of the nation's importance on the global stage. While Western analysts have scoffed at the Liaoning as a showpiece that is a long way from becoming a combat platform, every advance made on it has been lustily cheered by the Chinese people.

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