China has confirmed it is building a second aircraft carrier. Beijing is modernizing its military capabilities amid territorial disputes with its neighbors and the United States.
Confirming a swirl of rumors in recent months, China's defense ministry on Thursday said it is building a second aircraft carrier as the Asian giant expands its military capabilities amid maritime disputes with its neighbors.
"After an overall consideration of various factors, the relevant authorities started the research and development of China's second aircraft carrier that is currently under independent design and construction," defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said at a briefing, adding the 50,000-ton ship will run on conventional power.
China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (pictured above), is still undergoing testing since being commissioned in 2012. The 25-year-old Soviet-built Liaoning was bought second hand from Ukraine in 1998 and underwent extensive rebuilding and refitting.
"The design and construction of the second aircraft absorbed the useful experience of research and training from the Liaoning," Yang said. "This led to many areas of improvements and enhancements."
Similar to the Liaoning, the new aircraft carrier will carry China's indigenous J-15 aircraft, a copy of the Russian Su-33, along with other planes.
Yang did not say how far development of the aircraft carrier had proceeded or when it would be commissioned.
By comparison, the US Navy is larger than several other navies combined and has 10 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with a displacement of 100,000 tons and two aircraft carriers under construction.
Sea disputes with neighbors
Chinese President Xi Jinping is advancing a massive modernization of the two-million-man military, the world's largest, as Beijing exerts itself on the international stage.
Part of the modernization is building up Beijing's naval capabilities amid disputes with neighbors and the United States over territorial claims to the East China Sea and South China Sea.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, a rich fishing ground believed to hold reserves of oil and gas, and through which some $5 trillion in trade passes annually.
The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.
Beijing has built seven military outposts on reefs and outcrops to exert its sovereignty, a move criticized and unrecognized by Washington.
"China has a long coastline and a vast maritime area under our jurisdiction. To safeguard our maritime sovereignty, interests and rights is the sacred mission of the Chinese armed forces," Yang said.
The dispute over the South China Sea has led to the United States to conduct so-called "freedom of navigation" exercises involving aircraft and naval ships to send a signal to Beijing that territories claimed by China fall within the international air and maritime space.
China has sharply criticized the US exercises in the South China Sea as provocative and says it would like to resolve territorial disputes diplomatically.
Still, China's moves have rattled some of its smaller neighbors, who have increased their defense capabilities and turned to the United States as its strategic posture "pivots" to Asia.
cw/jil (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)