Last month, China was gearing up to celebrate the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy, which would be punctuated by the launch of the first-ever entirely Chinese-constructed aircraft carrier. On April 23rd, the PLA uploaded a poster to their various social media outlets depicting China’s first (and only) aircraft carrier in service, the Liaoning, as well as a few other interesting bits of military gear intended to encourage an outpouring of patriotic support from the Chinese citizenry. However, because of some poorly chosen additions to the image, things didn’t turn out quite like they’d hoped.
The poster does indeed depict the Liaoning at sea, a point of pride for the PLA Navy. However, that’s about the only thing it gets right. The three fighter jets shown flying above the carrier aren’t a part of the PLA, but are rather J-10 “Vigorous Dragon” fighters—a modern jet in Chinese service, but employed only by the PLA Air Force, not the Navy.
The problems with the poster only compound from there. The fighter depicted taking off from the deck of the Liaoning isn’t Chinese at all, but rather a Russian MiG-35. The MiG-35 is an updated version of the MiG-29 that does see use in the Russian military, but not China’s. In the distance, behind China’s sole aircraft carrier, other naval warships can be seen, but upon closer inspection, it’s pretty easy to tell that they also don’t hail from the Chinese military.
In fact, the two ships sailing alongside China’s pride and joy are actually San Antonio-class amphibious assault ships currently in service with the U.S. Navy. It can be assumed the PLA’s photo/editorial team had intended to use the Kulun Shan-class amphibious ships employed by China’s Navy, but based on China’s proclivity for stealing other nations’ military technology, maybe they just figured no one would notice.
China’s Ministry of National Defense promptly responded to criticism levied both internally and in the international community by issuing a rare formal apology and acknowledging their mistake.
“We have noticed too that the picture wasn’t correct and that caused criticism. Our editors made the error but their superiors also share the responsibility,” Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, a spokesman for the ministry, told reporters during a scheduled press briefing.
“We believe that the harsh criticisms [from Chinese citizens] reflected their deep love and heartfelt support to us,” said Yang. “Leaving the picture along with the appended comments was an alert for us. It serves as a constant reminder to us about working hard and to keep progressing. On behalf of our editing team, we offer our sincere apology as well as gratitude to people who pay attention to us, care about us, and support us.”
The government’s apology seems to have been well received within the nation, with many Chinese citizens changing their tune in the comments below the picture on various social media platforms to a less critical acknowledgement of their efforts, though the black eye this bit of PR gave the Chinese Navy likely reduced the positive attention the Chinese government have hoped to garner with the official launch of their new carrier.
Image courtesy of the Chinese Ministry of Defense