The 1960s saw the apogee of the European state. The relation of the citizen to the state in Western Europe in the course of the previous century had been a shifting compromise between military needs and political claims: the modern rights of newly enfranchised citizens offset by older obligations to defend the realm. But since 1945 that relationship had come increasingly to be characterised by a dense tissue of social benefits and economic strategies in which it was the state that served its subjects, rather than the other way around.
In later years the all-encompassing ambitions of the Western European welfare state would lose some of their appeal — not least because they could no longer fulfill their promise: unemployment, inflation, ageing populations and economic slowdown placed insuperable constraints upon the efforts of states to deliver their half of the bargain. Transformations in international capital markets and modern electronic communications hamstrung governments’ capacity to plan and enforce domestic economic policy. And, most important of all, the very legitimacy of the interventionist state itself was undermined: at home by the rigidities and inefficiencies of public-sector agencies and producers, abroad by the incontrovertible evidence of chronic economic dysfunction and political repression in the Socialist states of the Soviet bloc.
Tony Judt, “The Social Democratic Moment”, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, 2005
April 1, 2013
March 17, 2013
In Reason, Cathy Young looks at the bloody legacy of the Soviet dictator and his startling popularity in modern day Russia (and the west):
The 60th anniversary of the death of one of history’s most murderous tyrants has passed with relatively little notice. Yet the shadow of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who died on March 5, 1953, still hangs over post-communist Russia — and has yet to face proper judgment in the West. This is one bloody ghost still waiting for its final exorcism.
During the years of his absolute rule over the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million people. They included victims of state-engineered famines, particularly in Ukraine, intended to starve the peasantry into submission to collective farming; people from all walks of life shot on trumped-up charges of subversive activities; and others sent to the Siberian labor camps known as the gulag, never to return. Untold millions who survived lost years of their lives to the gulag. (Among the latter were my own paternal grandparents, who were arrested in 1947 and released after Stalin’s death; ironically, unlike most of their fellow prisoners, they were actually guilty as charged — of “betraying the motherland” by trying to escape the Soviet Union and go to Palestine.)
If there was ever a true devil in the flesh, Stalin was one of the prime candidates for the title. A tyrant with a deeply sadistic streak, he reportedly howled with laughter when told about the final moments of a former associate who had been promised clemency in exchange for a false confession and vainly begged his executioners to “please call Comrade Stalin” and clear up the misunderstanding. He jailed the wives of several men in his inner circle, presumably just for the pleasure of seeing his underlings squirm and showing them who’s boss.
Yet four years ago, this monster came close to being chosen as history’s greatest Russian in a nationwide Internet and telephone vote. Though the voting was not representative, actual polls also yield discouraging results. In a survey conducted last month by the Levada Center, a respected independent polling firm, almost one in 10 Russians said that Stalin’s role in Russia’s history was “entirely positive” while another 40 percent saw it as “mostly positive.” Fewer than a third believed it was entirely or mostly negative, while the rest were not sure.
January 12, 2013
In The Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz looks at the myths and realities of the standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States over Cuba in 1962:
On October 16, 1962, John F. Kennedy and his advisers were stunned to learn that the Soviet Union was, without provocation, installing nuclear-armed medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. With these offensive weapons, which represented a new and existential threat to America, Moscow significantly raised the ante in the nuclear rivalry between the superpowers — a gambit that forced the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. On October 22, the president, with no other recourse, proclaimed in a televised address that his administration knew of the illegal missiles, and delivered an ultimatum insisting on their removal, announcing an American “quarantine” of Cuba to force compliance with his demands. While carefully avoiding provocative action and coolly calibrating each Soviet countermeasure, Kennedy and his lieutenants brooked no compromise; they held firm, despite Moscow’s efforts to link a resolution to extrinsic issues and despite predictable Soviet blustering about American aggression and violation of international law. In the tense 13‑day crisis, the Americans and Soviets went eyeball-to-eyeball. Thanks to the Kennedy administration’s placid resolve and prudent crisis management — thanks to what Kennedy’s special assistant Arthur Schlesinger Jr. characterized as the president’s “combination of toughness and restraint, of will, nerve, and wisdom, so brilliantly controlled, so matchlessly calibrated, that [it] dazzled the world” — the Soviet leadership blinked: Moscow dismantled the missiles, and a cataclysm was averted.
Every sentence in the above paragraph describing the Cuban missile crisis is misleading or erroneous. But this was the rendition of events that the Kennedy administration fed to a credulous press; this was the history that the participants in Washington promulgated in their memoirs; and this is the story that has insinuated itself into the national memory — as the pundits’ commentaries and media coverage marking the 50th anniversary of the crisis attested.
Scholars, however, have long known a very different story: since 1997, they have had access to recordings that Kennedy secretly made of meetings with his top advisers, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (the “ExComm”). Sheldon M. Stern — who was the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library for 23 years and the first scholar to evaluate the ExComm tapes — is among the numerous historians who have tried to set the record straight. His new book marshals irrefutable evidence to succinctly demolish the mythic version of the crisis. Although there’s little reason to believe his effort will be to any avail, it should nevertheless be applauded.
[. . .]
The patient spadework of Stern and other scholars has since led to further revelations. Stern demonstrates that Robert Kennedy hardly inhabited the conciliatory and statesmanlike role during the crisis that his allies described in their hagiographic chronicles and memoirs and that he himself advanced in his posthumously published book, Thirteen Days. In fact, he was among the most consistently and recklessly hawkish of the president’s advisers, pushing not for a blockade or even air strikes against Cuba but for a full-scale invasion as “the last chance we will have to destroy Castro.” Stern authoritatively concludes that “if RFK had been president, and the views he expressed during the ExComm meetings had prevailed, nuclear war would have been the nearly certain outcome.” He justifiably excoriates the sycophantic courtier Schlesinger, whose histories “repeatedly manipulated and obscured the facts” and whose accounts — “profoundly misleading if not out-and-out deceptive” — were written to serve not scholarship but the Kennedys.
January 4, 2013
Strategy Page on the most recent North Korean hoodwinking of western intelligence agencies:
Western intelligence agencies are a bit embarrassed that they were not able to predict the exact day that North Korea recently launched a long-range rocket. Even though North Korean announced the two week period during which the launch would take place last December, and several nations had photo satellites flying over the launch site regularly, the actual launch came as a surprise. The North Koreans apparently took advantage of the regular schedules of these spy satellites to move equipment around the launch site at the right time to conceal just how close the rocket was to takeoff. Many intel analysts had not seen this sort of thing at all (if they were young) and the older ones had not seen it done to this degree since the 1980s, when the Soviet Union was still around and using their maskirovka (“masking”) agency to carry out large scale deceptions of photo satellites. The Russians taught the North Koreans many things, and maskirovka was apparently part of the curriculum.
In addition to concealing weapons, their performance and movements, the Soviets also used satellite deception to mislead the west on how their troops would operate in the field. Several times a year, the Soviets would hold large scale maneuvers. Each of these exercises would involve many divisions, plus hundreds of aircraft and helicopters. Satellite photos of these maneuvers were thought to reveal tactics the Soviets were going to use in future wars. But the Soviets knew when American satellites were coming over and sometimes arranged displays of tactics they had no intention of using. Naturally, this made it more difficult for the Western intelligence analysts to figure out exactly what the Soviets were planning. This, of course, was the sort of confusion the Soviets wanted to create with these little deceptions.
November 20, 2012
It’s being called “one of the most significant books of the 20th Century”, and it was published 50 years ago this month:
The character was fictional. But there were millions like him — innocent citizens who, like Solzhenitsyn himself, had been sent to the Gulag in Joseph Stalin’s wave of terror.
Censorship and fear had prevented the truth about the camps from being published, but this story made it into print. The USSR would never be the same again.
“We were absolutely isolated from information, and he started to open our eyes,” remembers writer and journalist Vitaly Korotich.
[. . .]
It was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who had sanctioned publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel nearly a decade after Stalin’s death. Allowing a book on the Gulag, he thought, would help debunk Stalin’s personality cult. However, one story sparked many more.
“After it was published, it was impossible to stop it,” Korotich recalls. “Immediately we received a lot of illegal publications. A lot of people who were in prison started to remember how it was.
October 14, 2012
Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe:
Hobsbawm [...] was a lifelong Marxist, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party from his teens until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Long after it was evident to even true believers that the Bolshevik Revolution had unleashed a nightmare of blood, Hobsbawm went on defending, minimizing, and excusing the crimes of communism.
Interviewed on the BBC in 1994, he was asked whether he would have shunned the Communist Party had he known in 1934 that Stalin was butchering innocent human beings by the millions. “Probably not,” he answered — after all, at the time he believed he was signing up for world revolution. Taken aback by such indifference to carnage, the interviewer pressed the point. Was Hobsbawm saying that if a communist paradise had actually been created, “the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?” Hobsbawm’s answer: “Yes.”
Imagine that Hobsbawm had fallen in love with Nazism as a youth and spent the rest of his career whitewashing Hitler’s atrocities. Suppose he’d refused for decades to let his Nazi Party membership lapse, and argued that the Holocaust would have been an acceptable price to pay for the realization of a true Thousand-Year Reich. It is inconceivable that he would have been hailed as a brilliant thinker or basked in acclaim; no self-respecting university would have hired him to teach; politicians and pundits would not have lined up to shower him with accolades during his life and tributes after his death.
Yet Hobsbawm was fawned over, lionized in the media, made a tenured professor at a prestigious university, invited to lecture around the world. He was heaped with glories, including the Order of the Companions of Honour — one of Britain’s highest civilian awards — and the lucrative Balzan Prize, worth 1 million Swiss francs. His death was given huge play in the British media — the BBC aired an hour-long tribute and the Guardian led its front page with the news — and political leaders waxed fulsome. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair called him “a giant … a tireless agitator for a better world.”
October 13, 2012
In spite of the name, it had nothing to do with a crew booze-up in town:
HMS Conqueror is famous, some would say notorious, for sinking the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano. The nuclear-powered attack submarine, a type also known menacingly as a hunter-killer, that year became the first of her kind to fire in anger. The Belgrano was sent to bottom in short order, her ancient hull rent by two torpedoes: 323 men, many of them young conscripts, died. The Falklands war began in earnest that day, May 2 1982.
But the ship now in the crosswires was not the Belgrano. This was August, almost two months after the liberation of the Falklands, and on the other side of the world, in the Barents Sea, backyard of the mighty Soviet Northern Fleet. Conqueror was sailing as close to Russian territorial waters as was legally allowed — or maybe closer. Submariners, a tight-knit community, politely disdainful of their surface counterparts, joke that there are two types of naval vessel: submarines and targets. Wreford-Brown’s target was a spy trawler — an AGI in Nato parlance, meaning Auxiliary General Intelligence. Crammed with interception and detection equipment, they were a ubiquitous presence during the Cold War, shadowing Nato exercises or loitering off naval bases.
This one was special: Polish-flagged, she was pulling a device long coveted by the British and Americans, a two-mile string of hydrophones known as a towed-array sonar. It was the latest thing in Soviet submarine-detection technology and Conqueror’s job was to steal it. To do so, the bow was equipped with electronically controlled pincers, provided by the Americans, to gnaw through the three-inch-thick steel cable connecting it to the trawler. The name of this audacious exercise in piracy? Operation Barmaid.
October 7, 2012
Strategy Page looks at the two main Russian intelligence organizations:
Now there are two foreign intelligence services: SVR and GRU. The first one is the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. It is the former First Chief Directorate of the Soviet era KGB, which has managed most foreign intelligence operations for decades. Its activities are well known throughout the world.
The second one is the GRU, Russian military intelligence. It is a part of the Defense Ministry. Its full name is much longer (The Chief Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army). GRU has retained its Soviet era name, and just about everything else. GRU is seen as a living relic of the Soviet times. That is why GRU is so much more secretive than the “Westernized” SVR. GRU officers are considered more patriotic (and old school) than those of the SVR. During the Cold War, there were fewer GRU defectors, still a point of pride in the GRU. GRU prefers to stay in the shadows. Western writers have not written many books about GRU, compared to the KGB. This is largely because GRU keeps its secrets better, and, in the West, is considered an obscure part of Russian intelligence. It’s possible that the GRU activated these sleepers, but for the moment the Germans aren’t talking.
Both GRU (Russian Military Intelligence) and SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence Service) perform the same functions: Political Intelligence, Scientific and Technical Intelligence (industrial espionage) and Illegal Intelligence. Because of this, the two agencies have a very real rivalry going.
But there was, and remains, one area where only the SVR (and its predecessor, the KGB) participates; running counter-intelligence abroad. This was long a KGB monopoly because it was the KGB’s job to make sure the armed forces remained loyal, and GRU was, and is, very much a part of the armed forces.
Thus when the GRU officers are working abroad, they are monitored by Directorate “K” (counter-intelligence) of the SVR. Those who serve inside Russia are watched by the Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence (The Third Directorate) of the FSB (Federal Security Service, inheritor to the KGB). Interestingly, in the Soviet period, it was also called the Third Directorate. It is not a coincidence but a continuation of the Soviet tradition. The Third Directorate of the FSB is still assigned to monitor the Defense Ministry, of which the GRU is a part. The head of GRU does not even report directly to the Russian President. GRU reports have to go through the Head of the General Staff and the Defense Minister before reaching the top man. Thus GRU is very much number two in the Russian foreign intelligence business. As Number 2, they tend to try harder, and consider themselves more elite than those wimps over at SVR.
On the other hand, there also is one function monopolized by the GRU; battlefield intelligence. The battlefield intelligence is run in peacetime as well. For example, in preparation for future wars, the GRU sets up illegal weapon and ammunition dumps in the territory of many foreign countries. This is a risky operation. It usually involves groups of junior Russian diplomats secretly going into rural areas to bury rifles, machine-guns and other weapons. They have to do this discreetly and in a hurry, to avoid detection by the local counterintelligence service. It is considered a hard job.
October 2, 2012
Eric Hobsbawm is about to be beatified as “the most celebrated British historian of the 20th century”
Michael Burleigh on the recently deceased — and totally unrepentant Communist — Eric Hobsbawm:
I can almost hear the wave of mourning that is about to fix Hobsbawm in the public consciousness as “the most celebrated British historian of the 20th century”. You have to understand the British Left, which is still near hegemonic in the humanities and social science departments in our universities, to grasp why those of a more liberal conservative persuasion will disagree.
First there is the tendency to worship at the feet of foreign gurus, a failing George Orwell (or as Hobsbawm had it, the “upper-class Englishman Eric Blair”) attributed to Britain’s alienated intellectuals taking “their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow”. This led them to give credibility to such evanescent charlatans as Michel Foucault, the chief exponent of “knowledge as power”, and the Palestinian activist and literary critic Edward Said.
[. . .]
Throughout, there was a dogmatic refusal to accept that the Bolshevik Revolution had been a murderous failure. Asked by the Canadian academic and politician Michael Ignatieff on television whether the deaths of 20 million people in the USSR — not to mention the 55 to 65 million victims of Mao’s Great Leap Forward — might have been justified if this Red utopia had been realised, Hobsbawm muttered in the affirmative.
Everything Hobsbawm wrote deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties or the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945. Such a cosmopolitan thinker had ironically become imprisoned within a deeply provincial ideological ghetto, knowing or caring nothing for the brave Czechs or Poles who resisted Stalin’s stooges, while being manifestly nonplussed by the democratic transformations of Central Europe since 1989-90. That the secret police — the Sword and Shield of the Revolution — would end up running Vladimir Putin’s FSB-mafia state was literally inexplicable to him.
September 25, 2012
China’s first aircraft carrier has been commissioned under the name Liaoning (not Shi Lang as most earlier reports had stated). Chinese news agency Xinhua posted this report earlier today:
China’s first aircraft carrier was delivered and commissioned to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Tuesday after years of refitting and sea trials.
Overseen by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the carrier was officially handed over by the navy’s main contractor, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, at a ceremony held at a naval base in northeast China’s port city of Dalian.
President Hu, also chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), endorsed a PLA flag and naming certificate to Senior Captain Zhang Zheng, commanding officer of China’s first carrier, the Liaoning.
“Today will be forever remembered as China’s Navy has entered an era of aircraft carrier,” Zhang told Xinhua on the carrier’s flight deck.
“When I received the PLA flag from the President, a strong sense of duty and commitment welled up in my heart,” said Zhang who has served as commanding officer on the Navy’s frigate and destroyer.
The carrier, rebuilt from the Soviet ship Varyag, was renamed “Liaoning” and underwent years of refitting efforts to install engines, weapons, as well as a year-long sea trial.
BBC News has a series of photos of the Liaoning from purchase to commissioning:
Earlier reports on the progress of the carrier (under the name Shi Lang) can be found here.
September 2, 2012
Japan’s conduct of the opening stages of World War 2 were literally schizophrenic: the Imperial Japanese Navy viewed their primary opponent as the United States, while the Imperial Japanese Army viewed their primary opponent as the Soviet Union. The army’s fears were based on a little-known but very significant campaign in an undeclared war fought between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1939:
In the summer of 1939, Soviet and Japanese armies clashed on the Manchurian-Mongolian frontier in a little-known conflict with far-reaching consequences. No mere border clash, this undeclared war raged from May to September 1939 embroiling over 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks and aircraft. Some 30,000-50,000 men were killed and wounded. In the climactic battle, August 20-31, 1939, the Japanese were crushed. This coincided precisely with the conclusion of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (August 23, 1939) — the green light for Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II one week later. These events are connected. This conflict also influenced key decisions in Tokyo and Moscow in 1941 that shaped the conduct and ultimately the outcome of the war.
This conflict (called the Nomonhan Incident by Japanese, the Battle of Khalkhin Gol by Russians) was provoked by a notorious Japanese officer named TSUJI Masanobu, ring-leader of a clique in Japan’s Kwantung Army, which occupied Manchuria. On the other side, Georgy Zhukov, who would later lead the Red Army to victory over Nazi Germany, commanded the Soviet forces. In the first large clash in May 1939, a Japanese punitive attack failed and Soviet/Mongolian forces wiped out a 200-man Japanese unit. Infuriated, Kwantung Army escalated the fighting through June and July, launching a large bombing attack deep inside Mongolian territory and attacking across the border in division strength. As successive Japanese assaults were repulsed by the Red Army, the Japanese continually upped the ante, believing they could force Moscow to back down. Stalin, however, outmaneuvered the Japanese and stunned them with a simultaneous military and diplomatic counter strike.
[. . .]
But what if there had been no Nomonhan Incident, or if it had ended differently, say in a stalemate or a Japanese victory? In that case, the Japanese decision to move south might have turned out very differently. A Japan less impressed with Soviet military capability and faced with choosing between war against the Anglo-American powers or joining Germany in finishing off the U.S.S.R., might have viewed the northern course as the best choice.
If Japan had decided to attack northward in 1941, that could well have changed the course of the war, and of history. Many believe that the Soviet Union could not have survived a two-front war in 1941-1942. The Soviet margin of victory in the Battle of Moscow, and at Stalingrad a year later, was excruciatingly thin. A determined Japanese foe in the east might have tipped the balance in Hitler’s favor. Furthermore, if Japan had moved against the Soviet Union in 1941, it could not also have attacked the United States that year. The United States might not have entered the war until a year later, under circumstances in Europe far more unfavorable than the actual grim reality in the winter of 1941. How then would Nazi domination of Europe been broken?
August 24, 2012
The only submarine in Ukraine’s navy is seaworthy again:
The Ukrainian Navy got its only submarine (the Zaporozhye) back into service. The 40 year old Foxtrot class boat has been out of action for 18 years and was recently refurbished. Zaporozhye is the only sub in the Ukrainian Navy, which mainly consists of small, Cold War era frigates (one) and corvettes (seven). There are also two amphibious ships and six minesweepers. The Foxtrot class diesel-electric subs were designed in the late 1950s and 58 were built until production ended in 1983. These are 1,900 ton boats with ten torpedo tubes and a crew of 78. Russia retired all of its Foxtrots by 2000, but they were all obsolete by the early 1980s. The Zaporozhye is the last Foxtrot still in service.
The Black Sea has not been kind to submarines. Three years ago the Russian Black Sea Fleet suffered a major blow when its only operational submarine, a 19 year old Kilo class boat, broke down at sea and limped back to port on partial power. The only other sub in the fleet, a 32 year old Tango class boat, was undergoing repairs (and still is, but will soon be scrapped.) During the Cold War, the Black Sea Fleet had thirty or more submarines.
Image from Navy Recognition.
Zaporizhzhia (U-01) (Ukrainian: Запоріжжя) is a project 641 (“Foxtrot” class) submarine, the only submarine of the Ukrainian Navy at the moment. She formerly carried the Soviet Navy pennant number B435.
Zaporizhzhia is run by a naval crew of 78, commanded by 1st Rank Capt. Oleh Orlov.
August 16, 2012
A review of Diaries by George Orwell in the Wilson Quarterly:
The early entries cover Orwell’s days as a tramp, a period that provided material for Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), and his subsequent investigation of poverty in the industrial north of England, from which he drew for The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). This volume’s lacuna is Orwell’s experience fighting the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Plainclothes policemen in Barcelona seized the one or two diaries that recorded those events, and delivered the work to the Soviets. Though the writings likely remain in the archives of the former KGB, Orwell transformed them into literature as well, with the extraordinary memoir Homage to Catalonia (1938).
Of greatest interest are entries from the periods of Orwell’s life that he did not turn directly into books. His World War II diaries are the highlight. Although all of the entries feature Orwell’s direct prose style, there are occasional hints of the novelist at work: “Characteristic war-time sound, in winter: the musical tinkle of raindrops on your tin hat.” And there are ominous passages that reveal his unusually clear view of the awful century unfolding, such as this one from June 1940 that prefigured his 1945 novel Animal Farm:
Where I feel that people like us understand the situation better than so-called experts is not in any power to foretell specific events, but in the power to grasp what kind of world we are living in. At any rate I have known since about 1931 . . . that the future must be catastrophic. I could not say exactly what wars and revolutions would happen, but they never surprised me when they came. Since 1934 I have known war between England and Germany was coming, and since 1936 I have known it with complete certainty. . . . Similarly such horrors as the Russian purges never surprised me, because I had always felt that — not exactly that, but something like that — was implicit in Bolshevik rule. I could feel it in their literature.
August 5, 2012
Yesterday was what would have been Raoul Wallenberg’s 100th birthday. It was observed in Sweden:
Sweden on Saturday commemorated the life of a diplomat credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis in World War II, but whose fate remains one of the country’s greatest war-time mysteries.
Crowds gathered in the town of Sigtuna, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Stockholm to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, whose defiance of the Nazis has been commemorated worldwide in statues, streets names, and on postage stamps.
Wallenberg served as Sweden’s envoy in Budapest from July 1944 — where he saved the lives of at least 20,000 Jews by giving them Swedish travel documents, the so-called “shutzpass,” or moving them to safe houses. He is also credited with dissuading German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of the city’s ghetto.
But, in January 1945, the young Swede was arrested by the Soviet Red Army on leaving Budapest to go to the eastern part of the country, and suddenly disappeared.
The Soviets initially denied they had detained him, but later said he had died of a heart attack in prison on July 17, 1947.
June 26, 2012
And update from Strategy Page on the Chinese aircraft carrier Shi Lang:
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Shi Lang (formerly the Russian Varyag), recently went to sea for the eighth time since it began sea trials last August. The latest trip is to last 13 days. The previous longest trip was last November 28, when the Shi Lang went out for 12 days. The first trip (last August 11) was for three days, most subsequent ones were for 9-11 days. So far, the Shi Lang has been at sea for ten weeks. All preparations have been made for flight operations, which have not taken place yet.
The Shi Lang has apparently performed well during these extended sea trials. Three months ago some aircraft were spotted on the flight deck. This was probably to make sure aircraft could be moved around the deck, and down to the hanger deck, without any problems. Last year China confirmed that the Shi Lang will primarily be a training carrier. The Chinese Navy is supposed to take possession of the Shi Lang later this year. The Chinese apparently plan to station up to 24 jet fighters and 26 helicopters on the Shi Lang.
[. . .]
China is believed to be building the first of several locally designed aircraft carriers but little is known of this project. The only official announcements have alluded to the need for two or three aircraft carriers, in addition to the Shi Lang. Construction of such large ships has not yet been seen in any shipyard.
Earlier posts on the Chinese carrier program are here.