The second of China's four reportedly planned aircraft carriers is said to be under construction in a port city in Northeast China, raising the public's enthusiasm.
Wang Min, the Party chief of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, Saturday told a panel at the annual session of provincial legislature that the second carrier is being built at a shipyard in the port city of Dalian. According to the official, construction is expected to be completed in six years, and China will eventually have at least four aircraft carriers, reported the website of Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao newspaper.
The report also quoted Wang as saying that two advanced 052D missile destroyers are also under construction in Dalian.
After briefly spreading online, reports on the carrier construction were later removed from the Internet.
As of press time, the defense ministry had not responded to the Global Times' questions about the alleged carrier construction.
If confirmed, it will be the country's first domestically built aircraft carrier. China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was refitted from a former Soviet Union warship at the Dalian shipyard and commissioned into the People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy in September 2012.
Speculation surrounding the carrier building in Dalian started months ago, but authorities were reluctant to reveal their plan for the development of aircraft carriers.
Responding to the reported aircraft carrier construction last August, defense ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun only remarked the Liaoning wouldn't be China's sole aircraft carrier, and the country will comprehensively consider the development of aircraft carriers in accordance with the needs of both national defense and military buildup.
The news cheered military observers. Among them, Lan Yun, a defense observer and editor at Modern Ships magazine, told the Global Times that it would mark a milestone for China's naval development in building indigenous aircraft carriers.
"The ability to design and build an aircraft carrier all by ourselves could cut off the reliance on other nations and lay the foundation for the future development of major warships. Undoubtedly, it would promote combat capacity and better protect our interests at sea," Li Jie, a navy military expert, told the Global Times.
Li said at least two carriers would be needed to meet the basic demand of Chinese naval power, so that one could be used for training when the other was undergoing maintenance.
The existing carrier, the Liaoning, is mainly used for training and scientific research. Last November, it left its home port of Qingdao for sea trials in the South China Sea.
Aircraft carrier development is core to the PLA navy, and could serve as a deterrent to countries who provoke trouble at sea, against the backdrop of the US pivot to Asia and growing territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, according to Zha Youyin, a military history writer.
"It is also vital to protect our maritime commerce and energy transportation when our maritime trade routes face potential risks as well," Zha told the Global Times.
Lan speculated that the carrier-borne aircraft aboard the new vessel are likely to continue utilizing a ski jump take-off instead of more powerful aircraft catapults, and its tonnage would follow the setting of the Liaoning, the water displacement of which is nearly 60,000 tons, with a slight improvement.
"Carriers with a lower tonnage would only suffice for low intensity battles and our present technologies may not be able to build giant ones like those made in the US," Lan explained.