Beijing (AFP) – China has launched its first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier, state media said Wednesday, as the country seeks to transform its navy into a force capable of projecting power onto the high seas.
Beijing has embarked on an extensive project to build a “blue water” navy and modernise its two million-strong military, the world’s largest.
The country’s rapidly expanding military might includes a range of maritime defence capabilities, a fleet of attack submarines, and highly sophisticated anti-aircraft systems that prevent enemy vessels from nearing its coast.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that “all must be done” to improve the country’s battle capacities so it can “fight and win wars.”
Adorned with colourful ribbons, the Type 001A ship “transferred from dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony” in the northeastern port city of Dalian, according to official broadcaster CCTV.
The ribbon-cutting was followed by the traditional breaking of a champagne bottle on the ship’s bow.
China’s defence ministry has previously said the new carrier would displace 50,000 tonnes and use conventional rather than nuclear propulsion.
It is expected to carry China’s indigenous J-15 aircraft, along with other planes.
China is eager to show its strength in the South China Sea, where it insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-rich waters despite rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbours.
It has extensively reclaimed reefs and installed military and other facilities including airstrips on some outcrops, dismissing an international tribunal’s ruling last year that rejected China’s claims to the disputed areas.
– Symbolic event –
Analysts said the ship represented a “status symbol” for Beijing in a contested region but posed little threat to advanced US carriers.
“The launch of the new aircraft carrier is primarily a symbolic event because it will take about two years for the vessel to be equipped and to make its first real tests…