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Deception by the Boatload

NEW DELHI – China’s announcement that its first aircraft carrier is ready to set sail as early as the end of this month has refocused attention on the country’s naval ambitions. So, too, has the Pakistani defense minister’s disclosure that his country recently asked China to start building a naval base at its strategically positioned port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea.

Both revelations underscore China’s preference for strategic subterfuge.

After it bought the 67,500-ton, Soviet-era Varyag carrier – still little more than a hull when the Soviet Union collapsed – China repeatedly denied that it had any intention to refit it for naval deployment. For example, Zhang Guangqin, Deputy Director of the Chinese State Commission for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense, said in 2005 that the Varyag was not being modified for military use. However, work to refit the carrier had already begun in Dalian, China’s main shipyard.

In order to deflect attention from the real plan, the state-run media reported plans to turn the Varyag into a “floating casino” near Macau. And, to lend credence to that claim, the two smaller Soviet-era aircraft carriers that were purchased with the Varyag in 1998-2000 were developed into floating museums.