China has confirmed it was building a second aircraft carrier, as neighbors worry about Beijing’s new assertiveness to claims in the South China Sea.
Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said the carrier had been designed in China and was being built in the port of Dalian. Foreign military analysts and Chinese media have for months published satellite images, photographs, and news stories purporting to show the second carrier’s development.
“China has a long coast line and a vast maritime area under our jurisdiction. To safeguard our maritime sovereignty, interests and rights is the sacred mission of the Chinese armed forces,” Yang said.
The design draws on experiences from the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, bought from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China, Yang said.
Yang said the conventionally powered carrier has a displacement of 50,000 tonnes, will be able to operate the J-15 fighter and, unlike the Liaoning, have a ski-jump take off.
Little is known about China’s aircraft-carrier program, which is a state secret.
He would not say when the second carrier would enter service, saying it depended on progress in the design process.
A Shanghai-based naval expert who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter said tensions in the South China Sea made the carrier particularly necessary to furthering Chinese interests.
“The US has many aircraft carriers that are traveling all over the place in the South China Sea, which have caused problems for us,” he said. “Having a second aircraft carrier reduces the pressure on us. It will keep us from being bullied.”
China claims almost all the South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims.
Beijing has been involved in a diplomatic spat with Washington over ship and aircraft patrols in the region.
Asked whether China has plans to build a third carrier, Yang said “relevant authorities” would take various factors into consideration.
The Pentagon, in a report earlier this year, said Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years.
The Liaoning has taken part in military exercises, including in the South China Sea, but is not yet fully operational.