China has confirmed it is building a second aircraft carrier in a move that is likely to further inflame tensions with its regional rivals over the South China Sea. Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a briefing in Beijing today that work had started on the carrier in Dalian, a well-known port city in the Liaoning province.
The project is part of the country’s rapid naval modernization, seen as aimed at asserting Beijing’s maritime claims and extending its power far from its shores.
The new carrier, China’s defense ministry announced on New Year’s Eve, is being built from scratch with domestic technology in the northeastern port city Dalian. It “has a displacement of over 50,000 tons and uses regular engines,” ministry spokesman Col. Yang Yujun said in a press conference, according to a statement on the ministry’s website. “It can load J-15 and other carrier-loaded aircrafts.”
“China always adheres to the path of peaceful development, and firmly upholds an independent foreign policy of peace and a defensive national defense policy,” he continued. “We have a long coastline and a vast maritime area under jurisdiction. To safeguard maritime security, sovereignty, and interests and rights is the sacred mission of the Chinese armed forces.”
Yang added that the military has “drawn on a lot of useful experience from the scientific tests and training of the first aircraft carrier,” and that the new carrier will have “new improvements in many aspects.” He did not give a timeline for the carrier’s completion.
The yet-to-be-named vessel will carry J-15 fighter-bombers and other aircraft and use a ski jump mode for launching fixed-wing aircraft, Yang said. The J-15 is a copy of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-33.
The confirmation that the carrier is under construction is expected to be looked upon negatively by Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei which are all in sovereign territorial disputes with China over the East and South China Seas. Mr Yang said the carrier was ‘independently designed’ in China and is just the second of its kind that the nation owns.
China’s main aircraft carrier is the Liaoning, which it bought from Russia in 1998 and then reconstructed, has carried out patrols in the South China Sea despite objections from neighboring countries.
“After an overall consideration of various factors, the relevant authorities started the research and development of China’s second aircraft carrier which is currently under independent design and construction,” Yang said.
China currently operates one aircraft carrier that was purchased as an incomplete hull from Ukraine more than a decade ago and then armed and equipped in China before being commissioned in 2013. That carrier, christened the Liaoning after the port in which it was refitted, has yet to take on its full aviation complement and is currently undergoing testing and training.
Yang said the second carrier is being built entirely with domestic technology but has drawn on China’s experience refitting its first carrier “with new improvements in various aspects.”
Yang said the date of the second carrier’s launching would “depend on progress made at the current stage.” As to how many flat-tops China aimed to build in total, he said, “Relevant authorities will take into consideration various factors.”