A top Chinese military official has confirmed that China’s first aircraft carrier is under construction, the first official acknowledgment of the ship’s existence, according to a Hong Kong newspaper report.
But General Chen Bingde, head of China’s General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), wouldn’t say when the aircraft carrier will be launched. The vessel is thought to be nearly finished, and could begin sea trials as early as this month.
General Chen told the Hong Kong Commercial Daily that the aircraft carrier “is being built, but it has not been completed.
The 990-foot Chinese aircraft carrier is a remodeled Soviet-era vessel, the Varyag, and is being built in China’s northeast port of Dalian.
The ship was constructed in the 1980s for the Soviet navy, but was never completed, the BBC reports. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it sat rusting in dockyards in Ukraine.
A Chinese company connected to the PLA reportedly bought the Varyag in 1998, saying that it would be turned into a floating casino in Macau, the Guardian reports.
The PLA, the world’s largest army, is highly secretive about its defense program, but it has been widely known that China was constructing the aircraft carrier.
Lieutenant-General Qi Jianguo, assistant chief of the PLA’s general staff, told the Hong Kong newspaper that even after the aircraft carrier was deployed, it would “definitely not sail to other countries’ territorial waters.”
“All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers — they are symbols of a great nation,” he said.
Qi said that China follows a “defensive” principle for its military strategy, and is facing “heavy pressure” in the oceans surrounding its borders.
“It would have been better for us if we acted sooner in understanding the oceans and mapping out our blue-water capabilities earlier,” he told the newspaper.
“We are now facing heavy pressure in the oceans whether in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea or the Taiwan Straits.”
China is involved in a number of marine territorial disputes with its neighbors, including around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and around the islands claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands and by Japan as the Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea.