Shanghai: China has started building its second aircraft carrier as part of a push to cement its position as the world's second biggest navy, according to reports in both China and Hong Kong. Wang Min, the party chief of Liaoning province in north-east China where the vessel is reportedly being built, said the carrier's construction would take six years and added that the authorities eventually planned to build four such carriers.
China's first aircraft carrier, a 301 metre former Soviet vessel called the Liaoning that was refitted in Dalian, was brought into service formally in 2012. America, the world's largest naval power, has 11 aircraft carriers. A number of other countries have one carrier, including Britain, Spain, Italy, Brazil, China, France, India and Russia.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post estimated that the new carrier, which is being built in the port of Dalian, would be completed by 2018. Chinese language reports on the internet about the carrier's development were reportedly deleted over the weekend, prompting claims that Beijing had hoped to keep the project "low profile". However, military strategists and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, have made no secret of their desire to see China build a powerful "blue water navy" that will boost the country's international status and its control over the seas.
Since coming to power in late 2012, Mr Xi has thrown his weight behind plans for a major revamp of the People's Liberation Army Navy. Last August, Mr Xi vowed that China would "enhance its maritime law enforcement capacity to match its overall national strength". "We love peace and will remain on a path of peaceful development, but that doesn't mean giving up our rights, especially involving the nation's core interests," he said, according to state media. Speaking last week, Ma Gang, a professor at the People's Liberation Army (PLA) National Defence University, said: "China should have a military that can match its power status." China faced "serious challenges to its sovereignty and several territorial disputes", Professor Ma added.
Li Jie, a professor from the Naval Military Studies Research Institute of the PLA, said: "The Chinese military has expanded its sphere of activity, aiming to extend its naval and air forces farther from the coast and into international waters." Last April China announced that the PLA boasted 850,000 officers while the navy and air force had 235,000 and 398,000 officers respectively. Reports about the construction of a second aircraft carrier follow an extended period of turbulence between China and regional rivals including Japan and the Philippines over disputed territories in the East and South China seas.
In July China and Russia launched what Chinese state media described as the country's "largest ever joint naval exercise" in the Sea of Japan. The exercise was widely interpreted as a challenge to the Americans'"pivot" to Asia as well as a signal to neighbours, including Japan and the Philippines, that China was now a force to be reckoned with. In a show of strength, the Liaoning recently completed a 37-day "sea trial" in the South China Sea.