How deception was incorporated into China’s first aircraft carrier

Watching “Narcos” on Netflix can make you wonder how much of the content is factual and how much is fiction. Indeed, the facts are often stranger than the fiction. Here is one of those stories: the first Chinese aircraft carrier.

Varyag was to be an Admiral Kuznetsov-class multipurpose aircraft carrier in the Soviet Navy. She was known as Riga when her keel was laid in Nikolayev on December 6, 1985.

Launched on December 4, 1988, she was renamed Varyag (Varangian) in the late 1990s, after the famous 19th century Soviet cruiser of the same name.

Construction ended in 1992 with the ship structurally complete but without electronics. Ownership transferred to Ukraine when the Soviet Union broke up and the ship was decommissioned without maintenance and then ultimately stripped.

At the start of 1998, he was missing

, a rudder and much of its operating systems. It was put up for auction. The ship has never experienced active service. Only the hull remained floating on the water, pending the decision of its disposal.

In April 1998, Ukraine’s Commerce Minister Roman Shpek announced the winning bid – $ 20 million from a small Hong Kong company called Agencia Turistica E Diversoes Chong Lot Limitada. It was revealed much later that bribes, threats and anything imaginable under the sun had been used to secure the auction.

The company offered to tow Varyag out of the Black Sea, through the Suez Canal and around South Asia to Macau, where they would moor the ship and turn it into a floating hotel and game lounge. was not a new proposition.

After all, the old Soviet carriers – Kiev to Tianjin and Minsk to Minsk World in Shenzhen – were good examples of how the Chinese turned old men of war into profitable tourist attractions.

Ukraine has not publicly desired a military role for the “reportedly” aircraft carrier. casino seemed to tick all the boxes. So far, so good!

Before the auction closed, Macau officials warned Chong Lot that they would not be allowed to moor Varyag in the port. The sale was still made.

Chong Lot was in turn owned by a Hong Kong company called the Chin Luck (Holdings) Company. Four of the six Chin Luck board members lived in Yantai, China, where a major Chinese Navy shipyard is located.

The president of Chin Luck was a former career military officer of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). However, the strong involvement of former PLA officers is not necessarily a sign that the company was a cover organization, as, for historical reasons, it is not unusual in mainland China for a company to be who is actually involved in tourism or travel be controlled by former PLA officers.

The practice is indeed widespread in many countries. Hong Kong at the time had hardly been handed over by the British to China. Many still saw Hong Kong as a former British colony and not necessarily as Chinese territory.

The fact that a half-built aircraft carrier was touted as a future floating casino, this too by a Hong Kong company, put an end to any anxiety that might have arisen in any think tank in the world. whole world.

In the mid-2000s, tugs were hired to tow Varyag. However, Chong Lot experienced bad weather as he could not get permission from Turkey to cross the dangerous Bosphorus Strait; under the Treaty of Montreux of 1936.

Turkey still has the obligation to allow free passage today but has certain rights of sovereignty and refusal. The hulk spent nearly a year and a half in a commercial trailer, circling the Black Sea. High-level Chinese government ministers held negotiations in Ankara on behalf of Chong Lot, offering to allow Chinese tourists to visit cash-strapped Turkey if the travel agency’s vessel was allowed to cross the strait.

The future casino was too busy and delays would affect the tourism industry in Macau, it was claimed. On November 1, 2001, Turkey finally changed its position. It was said that the ship presented too great a danger to the bridges of Istanbul, and allowed transit.

Escorted by 27 ships including 11 tugs and three pilot boats, Varyag took six hours to cross the strait. The Russian press reported that 16 pilots and 250 sailors were involved. The Suez Canal did not allow the passage of ships without their own power source on board.

Varyag had to be towed across the Strait of Gibraltar, around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Strait of Malacca. But as was revealed in 2015, the ship had its four engines installed and well preserved. The information was a closely guarded secret to ensure that the casino cover was not disclosed. The engines were restored in 2011 with smuggled spare parts and secret Ukrainian assistance.

The world has hunted down the Hulk, as has the tourism industry in general. Varyag entered Chinese waters on February 20, 2002.

She finally arrived at her destination. Not Macau though! Instead, it was docked at the Dalian Shipyard in northeast China. Even in the days of China’s fledgling modern navy, Dalian was a known shipyard.

The eyebrows did indeed rise. What was a ship doing, which always wanted to play a welcoming role, in a shipyard?

China, meanwhile, continued to claim Varyag would be a casino and all accusations of a possible revival as an aircraft carrier were fictional. However, when

Macau obtained new casino licenses in February 2002, Chong Lot was conspicuous by his absence from this list. The carcass was tied to Dalian and left to rust – or at least the world was made to believe.

Over the next three years, Dalian witnessed hectic activity around Varyag. In 2005, she was moved to a dry dock. It was only in the months that followed, as the ship was being prepared as a transporter, that the world realized how much they had been taken on board by Chong Lot and his first handlers. Casino, it certainly was not.

Seven years later, on September 25, 2012, the ex-Varyag was commissioned as Liaoning, the first aircraft carrier of the PLA of the Chinese Communist Party.

Anyone who has bet on his role as a player surely has a lot of money! In 2015, it also emerged that nearly 38 tons of blueprints had been shipped to China by road to allow the hulk to be resuscitated as an aircraft carrier. Much of China’s dealings continue to follow these infamous practices: The Mask of Innocence Hiding a Sinister Plot. With China, the fact is always stranger than the fiction.

The author is president of the Law and Society Alliance and editor of Defense Capital magazine.

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