On September 27 when a reporter asked Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun about the report that China was building its second aircraft carrier in Shanghai, Yang replied that the report was not accurate.
However, Yang did not mention where the report was inaccurate. Is it inaccurate because the second aircraft carrier is not built in Shanghai but in another place? Or is it inaccurate because what China is building in Shanghai is not China’ second but China’s third or fourth aircraft carrier?
China’s homegrown aircraft carriers remain a mystery.
However, we are sure that China is building, and will build, more aircraft carriers, because according to the annual report of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), China’s State Council made a decision in 2003 that China should become a maritime superpower.
That was confirmed by China’s Ocean Development Report, which said in 2010 that China had the idea, and made a plan, for building aircraft carriers in order to become a maritime superpower.
In fact China became interested in aircraft carriers long ago in the late 1970s, but at that time China was too poor to get one. In spite of that, it bought the Australian aircraft carrier the HMAS Melbourne in 1984 and dismantled it after studying it.
Later, it purchased from Russia the Kiev and the Minsk respectively in 1993 and 1995 and turned them into theme parks after studying them.
When China purchased Varyag in 1998, it was already quite clear that it might refit it as it bought not only the hull but also the blueprints. That was why China encountered such great difficulty in bringing the hull out of the Black Sea.
In 2010, PLA sources revealed that China planned to build four aircraft carriers similar to the Varyag by 2020. That was certainly true as China had received the blueprints for such carriers.
However, I do not think China wants so many carriers urgently. For resolving disputes in the East and South China Seas, one existing carrier, the refitted and renamed Varyag, the Liaoning, is quite enough as long as it can function normally.
On the other hand, China perhaps has changed its mind. For protection of its interests within the Yellow Sea and East and South China Seas, three Varyag-type carriers are quite enough.
However, in order to protect its shipping lines, it needs nuclear aircraft carriers; therefore, when China has built two homegrown conventional carriers, it has to wait until it has mastered the technology for building its own nuclear carriers.
China has the habit to keep its weapons development secret. However a large ship like an aircraft carrier has to be built in the open. As satellite photographs are available on the market, people can easily get photographs to check whether any carrier is being built in China.
For me, it is not necessary as I am sure China will build two more conventional carriers and the construction will not be carried out in earnest until China has carried out sufficient tests of the Liaoning to see whether such type of carrier is satisfactory and what improvement should be made in its design.
- Chinese navy gets first aircraft carrier (chinadailymail.com)
- The mystery of China’s carrier-based aircraft (chinadailymail.com)
- Beijing dismisses report of second aircraft carrier (wantchinatimes.com)