China’s first home-built aircraft carrier is set to begin its maiden sea trial, demonstrating the growing naval capabilities of a country which is inching closer to its ambitions of building “a mighty people’s navy”.
The 315-metre vessel, known as Type 001A, left the outfitting berth in Dalian in China’s north-eastern Liaoning province on Monday morning with the assistance of tugboats, according to local media.
Three areas in the north-eastern Bohai and Yellow Sea have been cordoned off for military activities from April 20 to 28, according to South China Morning Post, citing a recent announcement from the Liaoning Maritime Safety Administration.
The trial period roughly coincides with the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s 69th anniversary on April 23.
Beijing has been eager to independently build its own carriers and according to state media, the steel and all equipment on board Type 001A were all made in China, marking a first for the country.
‘Symbols of China’s growing ambitions’
Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a trip to observe naval exercises in the South China Sea, said: “The mission of building a mighty people’s navy has never been more urgent than it is today”.
The carrier will join China’s only carrier, the Liaoning, which was renovated from a Soviet-era vessel bought from Ukraine in 1998.
“Chinese aircraft carriers are symbols of China’s growing ambitions and craving for international recognition as a great power,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
China’s naval ambitions don’t stop there. The country is reportedly already working in Shanghai on its third carrier, and is estimated to ultimately build between six and 10 carriers.
The Type 001A relies on ski jump-style launch systems instead of the steam catapults used by the United States, and will feature more advanced technology than the Liaoning.
“China has studied Liaoning from inside out,” Jin Hao, military commentator with Chinese media Ifeng, told the ABC.
While this new carrier was … modelled on Liaoning, it has made improvements in the weapon system, control tower and internal space.”
Malcolm Davis, senior analyst on defence strategy and capability with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, believes the development of a PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] carrier capability would enable China to project power throughout East Asia and “ultimately along China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, through the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean”.
He said if the US Navy chose not to contest any presence, the carriers would give China absolute dominance in the South China Sea.
Dr Davis also pointed out that the growing Chinese naval power was reinforcing US, Japan, Australia and other states’ cooperation and strengthening counter-balancing alliances.
“The aim is not to contain China,” Dr Davis said.
“The aim is to deter and dissuade China from challenging critical interests of the US and its allies in Asia, and from overturning the established rules-based international order.”