Thu, Dec 25, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Beijing signals more interest in building carriers

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BEIJING

In the clearest indication yet that China could soon begin building its first aircraft carrier, a Defense Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that the country was seriously considering “relevant issues” in making its decision about whether to move ahead with the project, Xinhua news agency said.

The spokesman, Huang Xueping (黃雪平), said at a news conference in Beijing that aircraft carriers were “a reflection of a nation’s comprehensive power,” indicating that Chinese government officials saw value in adding a carrier to the country’s fleet. Huang said that China would use any aircraft carrier built in the future to safeguard its shores and defend “sovereignty over coastal areas and territorial seas,” Xinhua reported.

If China does decide to build the carrier, it will no doubt increase tensions with the US, Taiwan and Japan, among other governments. China has been expanding its navy at a fast pace. The government has built at least 60 warships since 2000, and its fleet of 860 vessels includes about 60 submarines.

Last month, a senior Chinese military official hinted in an interview with the Financial Times that China would like to build an aircraft carrier. Major General Quan Lihua (關力華) said having a carrier was the dream of any great military power and suggested that the US had nothing to fear if China did build a carrier.

The US has 11 aircraft carriers, but only a handful of other nations — including Britain, France, Italy and Russia —- have carriers, and of those, none has more than a few.

The Ministry of National Defense had called the news conference on Tuesday to give details about the deployment of Chinese naval ships off the coast of Somalia, where an increase in piracy has made the shipping lanes the most dangerous in the world. Three Chinese ships are scheduled to head to the area today.

The buildup of the Chinese military could change the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait.

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