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September 21, 2017

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ROC can't count on US Navy if tensions rise in the strait

A lot of noise was made in December after China sent its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, on a jaunt through the South China Sea. The deployment, termed a "training exercise" by the mainland government, caused great concern in Taiwan and Japan, coming shortly after Beijing's controversial expansion of its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) to include islands administered by Japan and claimed by China. The Liaoning, which is not fully operational yet, clipped Taiwan's own ADIZ and one of its escort ships was later involved in a near-collision with a U.S. warship shadowing the battle group.

The very existence of a Chinese aircraft carrier has been giving politicians conniptions. The ability to project power through the use of its aircraft carriers has been a key part of U.S. strategy, particularly in regard to Taiwan. A key factor in the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996 was the deployment of two U.S. carrier battle groups to the region, a fact that political and military leaders in Taiwan remember well.

It is perhaps this memory that made the appearance of a Chinese carrier so worrying. Politicians see China fielding aircraft carriers and wonder if it means China is preparing a navy that can keep the U.S. out of the Taiwan Strait. They are both right and wrong to be worried. They are right in that naval control of the strait is obviously in the strategic advantage of China, but they are wrong to think that this is the Lioning's role. In reality, the strait was closed to the U.S. Navy years ago.

Over the past 60 years three groups have given the U.S. military a difficult fight: the Viet Cong and the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lesson China has taken away from this is simple: why go head-to-head with the U.S. when cheap, simple tactics can accomplish the same thing?

And so the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has embraced the concept known as "area denial" by investing a considerable amount of resources into anti-ship missiles.

Aircraft carriers are, by necessity, massive and incredibly complicated machines. A U.S. Nimitz-class carrier is 333 meters long. An entire carrier battle group travels with numerous escorts and support ships. Its deployment is not meant to be a secret, stealthy exercise.   

They also make large targets.

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