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US-SKorea war games ignite aircraft carrier debate in China


USS George Washington which participated in the recent military exercise by US South and Korea

BEIJING (BNS): The recent military exercise by joint US-South Korea forces with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, have prompted China to have a re-look at its policy of not inducting aircraft carriers in its naval fleet.

Currently there are 22 aircraft carriers in active service in nine countries, including India.

China is the only UN Security Council permanent member that does not have an aircraft carrier and the US-South Korea exercises have ignited a debate over its importance.

US and South Korean forces in the east coast of Korean Peninsula held military exercises and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington was also deployed during the manoeuvres.

The four-day air and naval joint exercises began on July 25 and included the 97,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, 20 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft, F-22 Raptor fighter jets, and 8,000 troops.

Chinese navy which is fast emerging as a major force in the region, rivalling its Indian counterpart does not have aircraft carriers in its fleet.

The official explanation for this is that it would be wrongly perceived as military assertiveness and lead to unnecessary tensions.

But the recent war of words surrounding the deployment of the USS George Washington close to China's waters has once again sparked a debate on the symbolic and practical significance of the large naval vessel, state run Global Times said in its editorial Friday.

"The public strongly desires an aircraft carrier because of the prestige associated with one, the power it projects to the rest of the world and the sense of defensive security it provides," it said.

"On the high seas, an aircraft carrier could be an effective tool to maintain order, and it could win China respect from neighbouring countries, it said, adding the navy would assume a bigger role on the world stage.

The presence of USS Washington has sparked off concerns in China with one of its top defence officials asking the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to keep a close eye in view of the US-South Korean war games basically aimed pressuring North Korea, a close ally of China.

Chief of General Staff of the PLA Chen Bingde, "stressed that (the military) should pay close attention to changes in the situation and tasks, and get well prepared for military conflicts," the China Daily reported.

The PLA held its own naval exercises in South China Sea while firmly opposing the US-Korean war games.

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