The newly launched Chinese aircraft carrier appears to be merely symbolic and nothing more—at least for now.
The aircraft carrier is an iconic ship type. That is, its history of dominance at sea along with the great expense and technical challenge of building and operating a fleet of them have invested it with potent geopolitical meaning. Possession of an aircraft carrier, almost regardless of its absolute or relative capability, signals that its owner is among the top rank of world navies. In fact, many countries’ carriers are either inoperable or only minimally so, and others, while able to get under way and operate aircraft, are unitary examples in their navies and thus constitute little more than symbolic naval power.