China launches Shandong aircraft carrier . . .
China has commissioned its first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier at the Yulin Naval Base on Hainan island in southern China. The new aircraft carrier, the Shandong, is China’s second carrier to enter into service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The first one, the Liaoning, was bought from Ukraine in the mid 1990’s and joined the fleet in 2012. With the Shandong, China becomes the third country, along with the U.S. and the U.K., to possess multiple aircraft carriers. According to Chinese media, the new carrier will be able to carry 36 combat planes and various support aircraft and helicopters.
Growing marine capabilities . . .
While China is about three decades behind the U.S. militarily, its navy is growing faster than any other major fleet, and measured in number of craft the PLA Navy now has the world’s largest fleet. The PLAN now has about 400 warships and submarines, while the U.S. Navy only has 288. China’s power at sea is also complemented by a missile force that can threaten U.S. ships. And according to the U.K.-based think-tank International Institute for Strategic Studies, China has since 2014 launched more warships, submarines, and support vessels than the entire number of ships currently serving in the U.K. Navy.
Increasing naval competition in the South China Sea . . .
Although China’s new aircraft carrier will not be fully operational and combat-ready for about 10 years, it has already been decided that its main strategic focus will be on the waters around Taiwan and the South China Sea. The Shandong already passed through the Taiwan Strait on November 17 to, according to state media, “conduct scientific trials and routine training in the relevant waters of the South China Sea." This can only further fuel regional tensions as China’s expanding naval capabilities will translate into more regular deployments to the contested waters of the South China Sea.
- Asia Times: New China carrier makes waves in South China Sea
- The Diplomat: China commissions first home-built aircraft carrier
- The New York Times: China commissions 2nd aircraft carrier, challenging U.S. dominance