Beijing: China regards its first aircraft carrier as a "strategic" asset and plans to deploy it in the resource-rich South China Sea, where it is involved in maritime disputes with several countries.
   
The aircraft carrier, which has just completed trial runs, will be deployed in the South China Sea by the next Army Day, state-run People's Daily reported on Tuesday.
   
Tensions brewed in the South China Sea in recent months between China and several ASEAN countries including Vietnam and The Philippines over a number of islands stated to be rich with mineral and oil resources.
   
The vessel will operate under direct command of the country's Central Military Commission, headed by President Hu Jintao, the report said.
   
According to reports, the carrier refitted from an imported platform called Varyag from Ukraine was towed back to the Dalian Port in northeast Liaoning Province on Monday after four days of tests in the Yellow Sea.
   
"An aircraft carrier is the mark of major powers," the Daily quoted Gen Qiao Liang a military expert as saying. The vessel will largely expand the combat radius, raising country's off shore comprehensive combat capabilities beyond the first island chain.
   
Qiao said air domination is the prerequisite of naval warfare, especially for the remote areas away from the heartland. As a result, there is no alternative for the
vessel's leadership. Rather than an armament used in actual combat, the aircraft carrier is now more a strategic weapon. Its combat function ended as the Second World War was over, Qiao said.
   
"If an aircraft carrier sets sail from Japan's Yokosuka port, it takes a week for the vessel to arrive at the Malacca Strait and another a week's journey to the Red Sea. But that the trip can be made within an hour — even half an hour — by a missile," Qiao said.
   
"Air and space power is the key to future wars as it is faster, clearer and more accurate. The aircraft carrier's dynasty has already passed because economic activities do not solely rely on land and marine transport. Nowadays, capital flow can be easily finished by clicking the keyboard," he said.
   
The vessel has a symbolic meaning for the country's naval power image. The participation of the vessel will strengthen the navy's combat ability and deterrent force, Qiao said.
   
"The aircraft carrier will guarantee the smooth inflow of energy and resources into China from international waters. It can also ensure security and interests of Chinese workers overseas," Qiao said.
   
China's new carrier aircraft has reached the world's best level, Qiao said.
   
Technically, the lifetime should be at least half a century.
   
"The Chinese people should not overstate or understate in terms of its meaning. It is merely a necessary step for the Chinese navy," he said.

(Agencies)