In a critical milestone, China last week for the first time landed an aircraft on its first aircraft carrier. The event surprised some Western analysts who had dismissed mounting evidence Beijing was rapidly improving its carrier capabilities.
It was the latest in a string of underestimations by analysts over the speed with which China’s military is advancing, whether with long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles, stealth aircraft or an aircraft carrier.
Some skepticism is healthy; China is one of the world’s most closed societies. There have, however, been ample signs that Beijing has been working with diligence to build a better military.
those astute enough to be paying attention were not surprised: not by the Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile, the J-20 stealth fighter nor by how quickly the carrier Liaoning went into service and began operating aircraft. None of these developments, however, should be cause for over-reaction: targeting remains a challenge for the missile; it’s unclear how good the J-20 actually is; and a carrier landing is far different from learning how to deploy a carrier to project power. Yet, as always, it would be a mistake to underesti-mate China or its intentions. Beijing’s military ambitions have been obvious to anyone paying attention. No other rising power has been so deftly able to not only mine the Internet but exploit it as a gateway to virtually all of its competitors’ industrial and military secrets, then leverage that information to exponentially accelerate China into the future. There is a very real threat that China — more quickly than not — will assemble the individual parts of its military into a working whole and begin using it to achieve Beijing’s stated diplomatic and territorial aims.
Other nations in the region would be wise to anticipate that that reality is coming sooner than later, think cogently how best to draw Beijing closer and at the same time prepare for a China with significantly greater military might.