By Tom Phillips, Shanghai
China has started building its second aircraft carrier as part of a growing push to develop a what would be the world’s second biggest navy, according to reports in both China and Hong Kong.
Wang Min, the party chief of Liaoning province in northeast China where the vessel is reportedly being built, said the carrier’s construction would take six years and added that China’s navy eventually planned to build four such carriers.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post estimated that the new carrier, which is being built in the northeastern port of Dalian, would be completed by 2018.
Chinese language reports about the carrier’s development were reportedly deleted over the weekend, prompting claims that Beijing had hoped to keep the project “low profile”.
However, military strategists and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, have made no secret of their desire to see China build a powerful “blue water navy” that will boost the country’s international status and its controls over the seas. Since coming to power in late 2012, Xi Jinping, the president, has thrown his weight behind plans for a major revamp of the People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN
Last August, Mr Xi vowed that China would “enhance its maritime law enforcement capacity to match its overall national strength”. “We love peace and will remain on a path of peaceful development, but that doesn’t mean giving up our rights, especially involving the nation’s core interests,” he said, according to state media.
Speaking to state media last week, Ma Gang, a professor at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, said: “China should have a military that can match its power status.”
China faced “serious challenges to its sovereignty and several territorial disputes,” Prof. Ma added.
Li Jie, a professor from the Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said: “The Chinese military has expanded its sphere of activity, aiming to extend its naval and air forces farther from the coast and into international waters.”
Last April China announced that the People’s Liberation Army now boasted 850,000 officers while the navy and air force had 235,000 and 398,000 officers respectively.
Reports about the construction of a second aircraft carrier follow an extended period of turbulence between China and regional rivals including Japan and the Philippines over disputed territories in the East and South China seas.
In July last year China and Russia launched what Chinese state media described as the country’s “largest ever joint naval exercise” in the Sea of Japan.
The exercise was widely interpreted as a challenge to the United States’ “pivot” to Asia as well as a signal to neighbours including Japan and the Philippines that China was now a force to be reckoned with.
China’s first aircraft carrier, a 990ft former Soviet vessel called the Liaoning that was refitted in Dalian, was formally brought into service in 2012.
In a show of strength, the Liaoning recently completed a 37-day “sea trial” in the South China Sea, state media reported in early January.
Shortly after the mission had been completed Chinese fishing regulations were introduced requiring foreign ships to request permission to fish in large swathes of the South China Sea.
The US labelled the restrictions imposed by China “provocative and potentially dangerous”. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10582535/China-building-second-aircraft-carrier.html