China wins carrier battle of the Bosporusgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
China wins carrier battle of the Bosporus UPDATE TO: It's No Longer A Carrier, Not Yet a Casino
By Damien Mcelroy in Beijing (Filed: 02/09/2001)
AFTER a 15-month stand-off, Turkey has agreed to allow a Soviet-built warship to pass through the Bosporus on its way to China, where it will be used to help Beijing build its first aircraft carrier. Copy-cat carrier: the Varyag could help the Chinese to reverse engineer their own design The carrier Varyag has been bought by a private company supposedly to be converted into a Macao casino. It is believed that this is a ruse to obtain the ship. Chinese officials have mounted an intense diplomatic campaign to press the Turkish government into letting the vessel pass through its waters.
The Turks have kept the Varyag at anchor outside the Bosporus since June last year. Until now, they argued that the 67,000-ton, 1,000ft carrier - with no engine or rudder - would block one of the world's busiest waterways if it accidently veered off its path during transit.
The ship was designed in the 1980s to be the jewel in the Soviet naval crown. It was not fully completed when, in 1992 - with the USSR having ceased to exist - the newly independent Ukrainian government suspended construction.
Now the Chinese are keen to get hold of it. Commanders of the People's Liberation Army have set a deadline of 2010 for commissioning an aircraft carrier, and the incomplete Varyag has been chosen as a template for its engineers to copy. China believes that a carrier would allow it to stand up to what PLA hawks call "American military aggression".
Washington maintains its military presence in Asia by sending battle groups through the contested seas around China. Carrier groups in the area have been redirected towards the Chinese coast at times of rising tension in the Taiwan Strait.
In recent years, Beijing has poured hundreds of millions of pounds into upgrading its main shipyards. It now has the capacity to produce a carrier the size of the Varyag. A Western defence attache in Beijing said: "The Chinese are fleshing out a design for a carrier, so the Varyag will be useful. "It can be reverse-engineered and the Chinese will be all over it, learning about the construction techniques behind it and looking for aspects of design they need to incorporate."
Two smaller former Soviet carriers, the Kiev and the Minsk, have already been taken apart by Chinese engineers. But neither vessel is as important to China as the Varyag, which would help the PLA to overcome difficulties in designing a major carrier. The Varyag rusted at the Black Sea port of Nikolayev between 1992 and 1998, when a mysterious Macao-based company, Agencia Turistica e Diversoes Chong Lot Limitada, bought it for £14 million. The firm was said to be planning to bring it to the former Portuguese colony, where it would be converted into a casino and amusement park.
Soon after the deal was made public, a Chinese official dismissed suggestions that the PLA had acquired the Varyag. He said: "It was bought by a commercial firm for peaceful purposes, for amusement and relaxation. This is obvious to everyone."
It was a story that did not bear scrutiny. First, the Macao government said it would not grant the ship a casino licence. Then it turned out that Agencia Turistica, which does not have an office or a telephone line registered in Macao, is owned by former Chinese naval officers.
The bogus claims worried the Pentagon which was forced to rely on Turkey's control over the Bosporus to frustrate Chinese ambitions. As the stand-off with Ankara dragged on, Beijing stopped pretending that it was a disinterested party. Chinese ministries, ranging from foreign affairs to defence and communications, sent envoys to get the ban lifted.
China promised to build Turkey two power plants, and agreed to place the country on a list of approved Chinese tourist destinations - thereby generating hundreds of millions of dollars for the struggling Turkish economy. This apparently did the trick, and the impasse was finally broken last week. "This is not going to be an easy passage," said Ramazan Mirzaoglu, Turkey's maritime affairs minister. "That's why we had not given permission before. But recent developments in friendship and commercial ties with China, and news that a large number of tourists will be sent to Turkey, have raised relations to the highest level."
Stephen Saunders, the editor of Jane's Fighting Ships, stressed the significance of the development. He said: "To produce an operational aircraft carrier is not an undertaking that is taken lightly. China has interests hundreds of miles off the mainland, not just in the South China Sea but all the way from Japan to Taiwan and the Philippines."
Chinese resentment at United States naval power was reflected in the state-controlled media last week following a huge US exercise in the South China Sea involving two aircraft carriers and more than a dozen other warships and submarines. An editorial in the Communist party newspaper People's Daily declared that China could easily sink the American vessels. "The PLA not only has the ability to gaze firmly at enemy aircraft carriers, but also the ability to attack them," it said. "In the PLA's arsenal, there are already three kinds of weapons capable of countering aircraft carriers. "They are the modern missile warships, Lilo-class nuclear-powered submarines, and Dongfeng-15 nuclear missiles. (Of course, the PLA absolutely will not use nuclear weapons unless there is no other alternative.)"
-- Rich Marsh (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 07, 2001
I sure wish there was a CAM on the strait. Be fun to watch the progress, especially if it DOES get stuck. Taz
-- Taz (Taz@outintheforest.com), September 07, 2001.