As US President Barack Obama welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to the White House on Friday, Sept. 25, and spoke of the friendship between the two countries, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning-CV-16 docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, accompanied by a guided missile cruiser. This is revealed exclusively by DEBKAfile.
|PLA Navy Liaoning CV-16|
I have no access to any current classified intelligence, naval intelligence, or overhead image intelligence, so I must fall back on another form of intelligence: analyzing claims in the context of known facts. As John Adams put it, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
Let's start with some stubborn facts:
- Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) Liaoning (CV-16) is not "A Chinese aircraft carrier"; it is China's only aircraft carrier (though a second is being built).
- Laid down by the Soviet Navy as the Riga in 1988, renamed Varyag after Latvian independence and taken over by Ukraine with the fall of the Soviet Union, she was towed without operating engines to China and refitted.
- Its home port is Qingdao in eastern China, though there has been speculation she will be used to enforce Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
- To reach Tartus she would have to pass through the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, and the Suez Canal (or take the long way through the Strait of Gibraltar). This cannot be done unnoticed, even by civilian observers.
- With the US expressing concern about four Russian Su-30 aircraft and 200 Russian Marines, it could neglect to note China's only carrier deployed to the Med?
- When China itself defines the South China Sea territorial dispute as its primary naval power projection issue?
If only DEBKAFile alone had reported this I'd have ignored it completely. But other media, especially on the political right, are picking up on it. Maybe there is a Chinese ship at Tartus, but if it's the Liaoning, I'll believe in teleportation. Cue Twilight Zone theme: the "Philadelphia Experiment," anyone?