China is building aircraft carrier battlegroups and plans to deploy them not only in the disputed East and South China seas, but also to protect the country’s overseas ­interests.

Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, who served as a national political adviser and sits on the navy’s advisory board on cybersecurity, told the state-run Xinhua News Agency that building aircraft carriers served to “defend China’s sovereignty of the islands and reefs, maritime rights and overseas ­interests”.

The defence ministry confirmed this year that China was building its second aircraft carrier, its first wholly home-made one.

Xinhua mentioned China’s growing interests overseas, including the increasing numbers of nationals travelling abroad and its direct investments. It also noted a need to protect overseas ethnic Chinese.

“Protecting the economic, political status and occupational safety of overseas Chinese is paramount to safeguarding China’s domestic economic development and its reform and opening-up,” Yin said, adding that such protection required strong naval power like aircraft carrier battlegroups.

Xinhua said since the opening up programme began in 1980s, overseas Chinese accounted for 60 per cent of total foreign direct investment in China.

Beijing’s relations with some Southeast Asian countries was strained in the early years of the People’s Republic, with some wary of Beijing’s support for local Communist movements as well as suppression of ethnic Chinese who commanded the domestic economies of some countries in the region.

With China now having outbound investments in 155 countries and 120 million citizens travelling abroad last year, Yin said aircraft carriers were needed to protect China’s overseas assets and its nationals abroad.

Yin said China’s aircraft carriers were to safeguard its rights and sovereignty, not to invade or threaten its neighbours. China’s doctrine of “proactive self-defence” would not change.

The Liaoning, China’s first and so far only aircraft carrier, has conducted drills in the South China Sea on a few occasions since it was commissioned in 2012.

But so far the carrier has been used mainly for training purposes rather than playing any practical combat role.

Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military analyst, said Chinese aircraft carriers were unlikely to visit the South China Sea in the near ­future.

“Sending aircraft carriers would be a strong diplomatic statement. It is a demonstration of a country’s power and strong will to use force,” said Ni.

By ZHEN LIU Mar. 3, 2016 on South China Morning Post

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