If the question is “Why is China building a carrier navy?” then Bryan McGrath and Seth Cropsey might have the answer:
The most consequential misconception about the PLAN carrier program is that it is designed as part of a strategy to deter the United States from using its naval power to mediate East Asian conflict, the “mirror imaging” mentioned above. This is not the case.
China is building the capability to project power from the sea in order to build its strength relative to its neighbors, primarily those with whom it has ongoing territorial seas claims (including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan). China does not need to build a navy as large or as powerful as the U.S. Navy in order to create fear and uncertainty among its neighbors. It only needs to build a navy with the credible means to project power over those neighbors’ shores.
Put another way, the strategic target of the PLAN in building a carrier force is not the U.S. Navy, but the network of alliances that longstanding U.S. economic and security interests in the region aim to preserve. Creating uncertainty and doubt in the minds of regional governments that the United States can continue to assure their security is at the heart of China’s desire to see the U.S. diminished in the region.
There are two steps needed to replace the major partner in an alliance. The first is to show that the major partner is too weak or feckless or uncommitted to be a strong and reliable partner. I’d say we’ve demonstrated fecklessness all too often in recent years, bordering on “uncommitted.” We’re demonstrating at least some weakness with our broken naval procurement system and our refusal to maintain our fleet even at its present size.
The second step is to demonstrate yourself as a viable replacement — not loved, but at least strong enough to be respected. And China is certainly going down that path, even if they are a decade or two away from getting there.
For a preview of East Asia, look at what’s happened to the Middle East as we’ve retreated from there and Russia has risen in stature.