China: reclaiming great-power status
In China itself, the Somalia mission is seen as a natural outgrowth of its return to great-power status. China is increasingly reliant on foreign oil and other commodities – much of it transported by sea – to fuel its booming economy. The International Energy Agency reported that China imported half of its oil last year, and the agency expects that ratio to rise to 75 percent by 2030.
In a worst-case scenario, China is at the mercy of the US navy, the world's dominant sea power for the foreseeable future. Chinese military planners are all too aware that the US could conceivably throttle China's energy imports – just as it once did to Japan before World War II.
All the more reason for China to move from a "brown-water" to "blue-water" navy – which is to say, from a limited naval force patrolling China's own territorial waters, to one that can project power thousands of miles away. Enter the modern aircraft carrier battle group.
"China's navy is not good enough to meet the needs of China's maritime security, so I think it's necessary to build an aircraft carrier," says Mr. Peng, the military expert.
Neighbors cast a wary eye
But China's naval expansion makes some jittery – particularly in Japan and India. "Both are rivals of the Chinese," says Joshua Ho, an expert on maritime security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "Hence, any increase in China's naval assets or its ability to deploy long-range would be viewed as a threat to their own security."