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Chinese top brass admits building aircraft carrier

Central News Agency

2011/06/07 21:04:40

By Huang Chi-kuang & Bear Lee

Taipei, June 7 (CNA) China's Chief of the General Staff Chen Bingde has confirmed earlier news reports that Beijing is building its first aircraft carrier, the Chinese-language Hong Kong Commercial Daily newspaper reported Tuesday.

"Construction of the aircraft carrier is underway and it has not been completed," Chen said in an interview with daily.

It is the first confirmation by a ranking military officer that China is building the carrier since a website affiliated with the People's Daily first reported it in late April.

Meanwhile, Chi Jianguo, assistant chief of the general staff, told the paper that even after the aircraft carrier is deployed, it will " definitely not sail to other countries' territory waters" as China has always followed a "defensive" principle for its military strategy.

Chi said that China had not invested much in naval capability until 1990s, and has lagged far behind Western powers, which have dominated the seas since the 15th century.

"It would have been better for us if we acted sooner in understanding the oceans and mapping out our blue-water capabilities earlier," Chi said.

"We are now facing heavy pressure in the oceans whether in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea or the Taiwan Straits, " Chi said in an apparent attempt to justify China's building of aircraft carriers.

He said all the big countries of the world have adopted their own naval strategies, and China will "of course" also do that.

According to the People's Daily website report, reconstruction of the carrier, which was bought from Ukraine in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is nearing completion.

"Reconstruction on Varyag (the Soviet name of the carrier) has entered its last stage, with its hull being painted in the standard Chinese naval color of light gray-blue," the report said.

The Varyag was purchased at an auction for about US$100 million by the Chunluck Company, a Hong Kong-based enterprise funded by the Chinese government. At the time, the company said the vessel, which was about 70 percent built, would be converted into a multi-purpose leisure facility.

The ship was towed to a dock at the port of Dalian in 2002, where it has been under refurbishing ever since. The work on the vessel included the installation of power systems, active electronically scanned array radars, and surface-to-air missiles.

China's official Xinhua News Agency also then posted a picture of the carrier on its website with the caption, " Giant ship to make maiden voyage, Chinese dream comes true after 70 years."

The carrier will reportedly be renamed Shi Lang, after a Ming Dynasty admiral who surrendered to the Qing Court and helped it conquer Taiwan in 1681.

The carrier is 302 meters long and 70.5 meters wide, with a loaded displacement of 67,000 tons and a speed of 29-31 knots. It can host up to 50 planes of various types, mostly Su-33 and MiG-29 jet fighters, anti-submarine helicopters and early warning helicopters.

International military analysts think the Varyag serves as a platform for the Chinese navy to acquire carrier-building expertise and technology to pave way for China's construction of more carriers from scratch.

It is very likely that the carrier will be assigned to China's South China Sea fleet to help secure Beijing's crude oil shipping lines. The Varyag is also expected to help play an important part in resolving sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea that involve China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.

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