China is improving its naval warfare capability not only to use in any future invasion of Taiwan, but also as a bulwark against American aircraft carrier battle groups that would be sent to defend the island democracy.

According to an assessment published last week in the Jamestown Foundation’s weekly “China Brief,” the People’s Liberation Army navy “is developing methods to disable or sink American aircraft carriers and gathering the specific force packages to do so.”

The analysis, written by China expert Richard D. Fisher Jr., says Beijing “has long anticipated that to militarily subdue democratic Taiwan it will first need to win a battle against the United States.”

“The early 1990s saw much evidence of carrier-related research and nationalist-political advocacy, particularly from the PLA navy … to build a Chinese aircraft carrier,” Fisher wrote. “But, following the political crises of 1995 and 1996, which saw the Clinton administration deploy two battle groups around the carriers Independence and Nimitz near Taiwan in response to threatening PLA exercises in March 1996, sinking a U.S. carrier became much more pressing than building one.”

In his analysis, titled “To Take Taiwan, First Kill A Carrier,” Fisher says that China’s naval strategy may be to make defending Taiwan too expensive for the U.S. in terms of manpower, assets and political pressure.

“By actually sinking” an American carrier, Beijing hopes “to terminate U.S. attempts to save the island,” Fisher said.

According to recent Chinese media accounts cited by Fisher, PLA navy officials appear to be focused on neutralizing U.S. carrier battle groups.

“Missiles, aircraft and submarines all are means that can be used to attack an aircraft carrier,” said Maj. Gen. Huang Bin, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, who was quoted by Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao daily newspaper May 13. “We have the ability to deal with an aircraft carrier that dares to get into our range of fire.”

Huang said once China committed to attacking Taiwan, Beijing will already have planned for U.S. intervention. And he said China’s naval forces would have to strike at U.S. naval forces to keep them at bay.

But, while warning of China’s increasing naval might, Fisher said Beijing’s calculation that Washington would capitulate and leave Taiwan to its own defense if an American flattop were destroyed was “potentially dangerous.”

“The United States likes vainglory; if one of its aircraft carriers should be attacked and destroyed, people in the United States would begin to complain and quarrel loudly, and the U.S. president would find the going harder and harder,” Huang was quoted as saying.

Fisher’s assessment may be on track; in March, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a group of U.S. and Taiwanese military officials that the Bush administration “has said … the United States is committed to doing whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend itself.”

Nevertheless, China continues to hone its naval warfare capabilities and modernize its fleet.

The weekly military intelligence brief Geostrategy Direct reported Wednesday that China recently conducted a new anti-ship missile test in the South China Sea. Photos of the missile test and its launcher were disclosed July 4 in the official Communist Party newspaper, People’s Daily, Geostrategy reported.

The paper quoted Chinese naval officials as saying the missile test was carried out to help PLA Navy personnel to “be familiar with the application of the new equipment, increase the ability of land-based logistics and marine rapid logistics, and win future local sea battles.”

“The missile was identified by U.S. intelligence officials as a version of C-801 or C-802 anti-ship cruise missile,” said the report, noting that the “test launch was conducted from a Luhu-class guided missile destroyer.” Chinese military officials said the missile was of a “new type” with “over-the-horizon” capabilities.

“China’s anti-carrier forces include new Russian-made Su-30 fighter bombers, Russian Kilo-class submarines and new anti-ship cruise missiles, like the C-801,” said Geostrategy. Also, Beijing’s generals have written that land-based ballistic missiles also could be used to target aircraft carrier groups.

Other reports said the Chinese navy was given “three major directions” in 1995: 1) place naval building in an important position and accelerate the pace of naval modernization, 2) ensure the security of China’s coastal defense, and 3) promote the great cause of the unification of the motherland.

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