China Wednesday launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier which will join an existing one bought from Ukraine, boosting its blue-water capabilities amid growing tension about Beijing flexing its muscle in the strategic South China Sea.
The 50,000-tonne new aircraft carrier was transferred from a dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony in northeast Dalian shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC) amid streamers and champagne.
The as-yet unnamed vessel is China’s second aircraft carrier. The ship was towed from Dalian Shipyard, Liaoning, to a nearby wharf, China’s Ministry of National Defense said.
The carrier is touted to be a significant upgrade from the Liaoning, which was built more than 25 years ago and is a refurbished Soviet ship bought from Ukraine.
China began building its second carrier in November 2013. Dock construction started in March 2015. However, the carrier is not expected to enter active service until 2020.
Putting the carrier into water marked progress in China’s efforts to design and build a domestic aircraft carrier, state-run Xinhua news agency commented.
After the launch, the new carrier will undergo equipment debugging, outfitting and comprehensive mooring trials, the defence ministry said.
A blue-water navy is a maritime force capable of operating globally across the deep waters of open oceans.
The launch ceremony was attended by General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
China has the second largest military budget in the world, estimated at USD 148 billion after a seven per cent spending increase announced in March 2017.
The launch of the aircraft carrier comes amid China’s assertiveness in the resource-rich South China Sea.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite objections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
China has also created artificial islands in the area, outfitting some of them with military features.
The launch also comes amid heated rhetoric between the US and North Korea in recent days. The US has deployed warships and a submarine to the Korean peninsula, prompting an angry reaction from North Korea. China, a close ally of Pyongyang, has urged for calm.
China’s military is also eyeing more aircraft carriers to enhance its capabilities.
Recently state-run People’s Daily quoted military experts as saying that the third aircraft carrier to be built in Shanghai may be nuclear powered.
Earlier reports said Chinese navy which now has an expanded role among the military is set to raise its marine forces from 20,000 to one lakh as it started setting up logistic bases in Gwadar port in Pakistan and Djibouti in Africa.
China’s military build-up has unsettled its neighbours and the US, particularly as Beijing has taken a more robust stance in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
According to Yvonne Chiu, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, China’s navy is trying to enhance its ability to operate globally across open oceans.
“China seeks to become a major world power, and one of the hallmarks of such a status is blue-water capability and the ability to project military might globally,” CNN quoted Chiu as saying.