The Chinese military has confirmed that it is constructing its first aircraft carrier.
General Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of The People's Liberation Army (PLA) refused to say, however, when the craft will be ready. He made his comments to the Chinese-language Hong Kong Commercial Daily newspaper.
The 990-foot, 60,000-tonne carrier, which is being assembled in the northeast seaport town of Dalian, is believed to be nearly completed. The vessel is a remodeled version of a 1980s Soviet-era carrier, the Varyag.
China’s construction of the carrier has been an ”open secret” for years, and the military has assured its presence on the high seas would pose no danger to other countries.
Lt General Qi Jianguo, assistant chief of the general staff, told the Hong Kong Commercial Daily that after the carrier is deployed, it will definitely not sail to other countries' territorial waters. All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers - they are symbols of a great nation.
He added that China has traditionally adhered to defensive military strategies.
It would have been better for us if we acted sooner in understanding the oceans and mapping out our blue-water capabilities earlier,” he said.
We are now facing heavy pressure in the oceans whether in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea or the Taiwan Straits.”
The General was referring to maritime disputes with Vietnam and Philippines, among other nations.
Historically, the PLA (the largest army on the planet) has been secretive about its defense projects.
The United States, which has by far the world’s largest fleet of aircraft carriers – eleven – has expressed its fears about China’s growing military presence on the oceans. The US has several military bases and vessels across the Asian seas.
According to reports, the PLA is heavily involved in developing submarines – including the world’s first carrier-killer ballistic missile which can allegedly sink aircraft carriers up to 1,500 kilometers offshore. The Chinese army is also constructing its own stealth fighter aircraft largely based on Russian designs.
Although analysts believe the warship is ready for sea trials, other state that it will take years for Chinese military personnel to handle the many duties and intricacies involved in running such a massive craft.
An aircraft carrier is a symbol of the power of your navy, said General Xu Guangyu, a retired Chinese army veteran, according to reports.
China should at least be on the same level as other permanent members of the UN Security Council who have carriers. It's also a symbol of deterrence. It's like saying, 'Don't mess with me. Don't think you can bully me.' So it's normal for us to want a carrier. I actually think it's strange if China doesn't have one.
Xu further added: The development of our armed forces is connected with the development of our economy. In energy supplies and trade we now have interests that span the globe. There are vital shipping routes in Asia, the Indian Ocean, Africa, and both sides of the Pacific that we need to protect. So our military strength needs to match the range of our economic and diplomatic activity.
According to data from Jane’s Fighting Ships, only a handful of countries in the world even have aircraft carriers. The U.S. leads the pack with eleven; Italy has two; while France, Russia, India, Brazil, Thailand, Holland and UK each have one.