Is China building an aircraft carrier?

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It would seem like an easy question to answer, right? Hiding an aircraft carrier isn't like slipping a knife into your pocket. But China watchers aren't sure what's going on in Beijing. In January 2006, Taiwan claimed to have evidence that mainland China was planning to build an entire carrier group, a charge Beijing immediately derided. The Chinese explained that they were merely converting a retired Ukrainian carrier, the Varyag, into a floating museum. But new questions are coming out. Joseph E. Lin writes in the Jamestown Foundation's most recent China Brief:

At the recent Fifth Session of the 10th National People’s Congress held in Beijing, an admiral from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation claimed, off-the-record, that China has already begun the research and development (R&D) of an indigenously built aircraft carrier and could complete its construction by 2010.

Other admirals denied the claim or refused to comment. Lin points to some signs that may indicate that China is, in fact, building an aircraft carrier. And now, a Korean newspaper is claiming to have the goods:

China has been pushing ahead with construction of a mega-sized nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be completed in 2020, according to a Chinese Communist Party's dossier.

A source close to Chinese military affairs said on March 27 that China has been promoting the construction of a 93,000-ton atomic-powered carrier under a plan titled the "085 Project." The nation also has a plan to build a 48,000-ton non-nuclear-powered carrier under the so-called "089 Project," added the source.

According to the article, China's new nuclear-powered carrier group would be able to reach Guam, home to a major U.S. naval base. Against the backdrop of the United States pushing for greater transparency from the inscrutable Chinese military, it's clear that somebody here is taking matters into his or her own hands. But who, and what's the motive? One potential clue in the Korean article: 

The non-nuclear-powered carrier is reported to be a revised version of Ukraine’s Varyag, which China purchased in 1998.


The Robert Mugabe defense fund begins to splinter

Robert Mugabe
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The long and disgraceful African silence on Robert Mugabe may finally be ending. For years now, Mugabe's friends and neighbors have kept quiet as the aging and increasingly unhinged leader drove his country into the ground. Africa's leaders often deployed tired anticolonialist rhetoric to defend him from criticism by Western watchdog groups. But Mugabe's latest depredations may have finally exhausted African patience—or at least embarrassed his colleagues sufficiently to speak out. Zambia's president broke the silence last week when he compared Zimbabwe to the Titanic.

Today's news may prompt more defections. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, still recovering from the wounds inflicted by Mugabe's security service, has just been arrested. South Africa's stance will be critical. The government of Thabo Mbeki has long favored what he terms "quiet diplomacy" in dealing with Mugabe, and officials have bristled at criticism.

It is not our intention to make militant statements to make us feel good, or to satisfy governments outside the African continent," Pahad told a regular news briefing in Pretoria amid the growing political crisis in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Today's emergency meeting of the Southern Africa Development Community will give South Africa a chance to reconsider its stance.