Key Points
China intends to use aircraft carriers for defence of its territories in the South China Sea, says academic

Recent operations by the United States in the area have validated the need for an aircraft carrier there, he argues

The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is likely deploy at least one aircraft carrier for permanent operations in the South China Sea once its second ship is fully operational, a Chinese academic told IHS Jane's on 28 January.

Professor Chu Shulong, who is currently the director of the Institute of International Strategic and Development Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, was speaking to IHS Jane's after giving a lecture on Chinese military modernisation and security strategy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore. Chu is also a professor at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Party School.

"For the Northern Sea, Yellow Sea, and Eastern Sea, China does not need an aircraft carrier. Chinese land-based [aircraft] are capable of reaching places like the Diaoyu Islands", said Chu, in reference to the territories also claimed by Japan and known in Tokyo as the Senkaku Islands.

However, the same cannot be said of China's territories in the South China Sea, the professor argued. "Should the Americans send their [aircraft] and ships into the South China Sea, China currently does not have the [aerial] capacity to deal with such a challenge", said Chu; he added that it will take about an hour for Chinese fighter aircraft from the nearest airbase on Hainan Island to reach the southern regions of the South China Sea.

"These challenges [from the United States] will most likely take place very frequently in the future", said Chu. The US Navy (USN) Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations, notably the sailing of the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Lassen past Subi Reef in October 2015, has convinced Chinese military leaders that the deployment of an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea is necessary going forward, he continued.