China is planning a second and larger aircraft carrier, a top naval officer said according to state media yesterday, after its first carrier was commissioned last year as part of a military buildup.
The confirmation of a second vessel comes amid escalating maritime territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, and the US’ increased focus on Asia, which has riled China.
“China will have more than one aircraft carrier,” Song Xue (宋學), deputy chief of staff of China’s navy, said at a ceremony on Tuesday to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the founding of China’s navy, Xinhua news agency reported.
“We hope the next aircraft carrier can be bigger, because then it would be able to carry more aircraft and be more powerful,” he told foreign military attaches in Beijing.
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, went into service in September last year in a symbolic milestone for the country’s increasingly muscular military.
However, the vessel still requires a carrier group, including destroyers, frigates and submarines, while fighter jets need more training to be operational, Song said.
In a report released earlier this month, China’s defense ministry took aim at the US and its expanding military alliances with Asian allies, saying that it was “frequently making the situation there tenser.”
Tensions with Japan have spiraled in recent months in a row over Tokyo-administered islands in the East China Sea. Both sides have scrambled fighter jets in the area.
China is also at odds with Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, over other disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Washington’s foreign policy “pivot” toward Asia in recent years is seen as emboldening China’s rivals who are involved in the territorial spats.
China has also generated concern with double-digit rises in its annual defense budget — set at 10.7 percent for this year — with experts saying actual military spending is substantially higher than the publicized totals.
Xinhua said Song provided no details on whether the vessel would be constructed or purchased, but dismissed as inaccurate foreign media reports that China is building new aircraft carriers in Shanghai.
Beijing purchased its first carrier from Ukraine before refurbishing it. The vessel had been commissioned by the former Soviet Union, but work halted with its collapse.
The Liaoning — named after a northeastern Chinese province — is not expected to be fully operational for several years, although late last year China conducted the first landing of a fighter jet on the vessel.