China builds new aircraft carrier in show of strength to Washington

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China intends to beef up its maritime presence by building a second aircraft carrier. Beijing wants to exert its presence in the South China Sea, after complaining of “provocations” from the US, as well as defending its interests in the region.

Little is known about China’s aircraft carrier program, however a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Yang Yujun, said the ship had been designed in China and was being built in the port of Dalian. 

"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, as cited by Reuters. 

The Defense Ministry spokesman added that the aircraft carrier will be able to operate J-15 fighter jets and will also have a ski-jump take-off. China’s only other aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was purchased from Ukraine in 1998 before being refitted in China.

China has been looking to increase its maritime defense capabilities, as it exerts its claims in the South China Sea.

"The US has many aircraft carriers that are traveling all over the place in the South China Sea, which have caused problems for us. Having a second aircraft carrier reduces the pressure on us. It will keep us from being bullied,” a Shanghai-based naval expert, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters. 

Earlier this month the Chinese Navy commissioned its third Type 052D Kunming-class destroyer, ‘Hefei’, armed with surface-to-surface missiles as its primary assault weapon. Beijing says it plans to build at least 10 warships, while they will be based at the naval complex in Sanya on the island of Hainan. 

“My men have familiarized themselves with the advanced equipment and weapons [onboard the ship]. In the near future, we will focus on training, aiming to make the ship become fully operational within a short period,” Hefei’s captain, Commander Zhao Yanquan, told China Daily on December 14.

Two weeks ago, China filed a complaint with the Pentagon after a US nuclear-capable B-52 bomber flew over a man-made island in the South China Sea that China claims gives it sovereignty over the surrounding waters. Beijing said the move was a “provocation.”

It urged the United States "to immediately adopt measures to put an end to such kind of dangerous actions, in order not to impact the two countries' military relations,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Over the past few years China has reclaimed several islands in the South China Sea and built infrastructure on them capable of supporting combat missions of the Chinese Air Force. Beijing insists that the effort is primarily civilian and is meant to make the South China Sea, the region with some of the heaviest maritime traffic in the world, most of it China-bound, a safer place.

The US rejects Beijing's claim and occasionally sends its warplanes and warships through the 12 nautical mile area around the artificial islands, which China sees as its exclusive zone. In late October, the US guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed close to Subi Reef with one such mission, provoking an angry rebuke from China.

The South China Sea is believed to have massive deposits of oil and gas, while around $5 trillion of shipping trade passes through the area per year.