China’s aircraft carrier fiasco
IT's not a good idea to cross China's new President-for life Xi Jinping. Find yourself in his bad books and you're likely to promptly face 'corruption' charges.
It's been his favourite tool to sideline political opponents and those who fail to live up to his expectations. And it appears the manager of China's highest profile defence project - the new Type 001A aircraft carrier - has done just that.
The ship has become a symbol of Beijing's ambitious drive to seize the South China Sea and stamp its authority on the world stage. It is expected to enter full service by 2020. It will give Beijing a powerful new symbol of its wealth and strength.
But it was returned to dry dock immediately after its first voyage to sea.
This is unusual.
It indicates technical issues requiring extensive work.
China's state-run media has been silent on the issue for the past month.
But, now, the manager of the Type 001A construction project has been jailed.
THE PRICE OF FAILURE?
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (the Communist Party's internal police) said in a brief statement at the weekend that Sun Bo was being probed for "suspicion of serious breach of the party discipline and the law".
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post says this is "the usual euphemism for corruption".
The 57-year-old is general manager of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), the state-run business responsible for building the aircraft carrier. It's major shipyard is based in the northeastern city of Dalian.
The Post says Sun rose through the ranks in Dalian after specialising in maritime design. He joined the Communist Party leadership as a CSIC manager in 2009.
He took up the role of general manager in 2015, second only to chairman Hu Wenming.
Sun's greatest responsibility was the success fo the Type 001A project.
After a five-year construction process, the aircraft carrier put to sea on May 13, and returned five days later. Chinese state media declared it had completed 'all of its assigned tasks'.
President Xi Jinping has exploited a highly publicised anti-corruption campaign since he won the office in 2012. Since then, he has jailed a number of high-profile, senior military and government figures. Many have been rumoured to be opponents of his drive to centralise all power under his 'president for-life' authority.
President Xi also has been publicly calling to strengthen and modernise the nation's navy in recent months, insisting it will become a major international maritime power.
Early in May, pictures appeared on Chinese social media showing the freshly completed Type 001A putting to sea for the first time. Shortly after, Beijing's state-controlled media began distributing photographs and footage of the ship as it underwent its first operational tests.
The idea was to push its navigation and propulsion systems to the limit.
What hasn't been shown is what's happened since.
The carrier was immediately placed within the same dry dock it was built in. The gates were closed. The water was drained. Many of its crew have returned to shore, and dockyard workers are back in action.Why? We don't know.
But aircraft carriers are complicated beasts.
The pride of the US Navy, the USS Ford, has also been undergoing extensive repairs and modifications since it was first launched more than a year ago. Problems persist with its catapult and landing systems, as well as its power generators.
Britain's brand new HMS Queen Elizabeth also had to return to dry dock recently after it was discovered the seals around the drive shafts powering its enormous propellers were leaking water into the ship.
While Type 001A is no match for any of the United States' 11 nuclear-powered super carriers, the presence of it and its half-sister in the South China Sea has the potential to tip the balance of power in the region.
It can carry between 18-24 J-15 fighter jets, as well as about 17 helicopters.
China's one operational aircraft carrier, Liaoning, was built almost 30 years ago by the Soviet Union. It was purchased from Ukraine (under the guise of turning it into a floating casino) before being reactivated as a training ship in 2012.
Beijing has declared the ship was now reached 'initial operational capability', having fully established the necessary flying and operational procedures.
"The carrier group's exercises have been deepened to include combat operations in the open seas," Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told state media earlier this month. "It has initially formed a system combat capability," Ren said.
State media has quoted military experts as saying China plans to build at least six carriers.