The Chinese media accidentally confirmed that Beijing is building a new aircraft carrier when it leaked that a Changzhou manufacturer was awarded the contract to wire the ship. The reports in a blog and a state-run local newspaper were quickly redacted. The Washington Post reports:
The government in Changzhou, in eastern Jiangshu province, boasted on social media on Sunday that a local firm had won a contract to supply electrical cabling for the carrier. It later deleted the post, but not before it had been widely circulated. A report in a local newspaper was also withdrawn.Although China has made no secret of its desire to expand its navy and add to its sole aircraft carrier, the news is a reminder of Beijing’s growing military might and the assertive way it has gone about staking its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas in recent years. […]Although China’s military capabilities lag far behind those of the United States, defense spending here is growing by double digits annually. Last week, the country’s defense ministry spokesman, Col. Yang Yujun, said that military training this year would focus on improving its capability to win“local wars.”
The new carrier will be the second in the Chinese fleet, and the first built domestically. China’s sole current carrier, the Liaoning, has been a source of pride for Chinese nationalists and a rallying point for calls for more naval power going forward. Beijing had to perform some strange diplomatic gymnastics to get a hold of it, and it isn’t the most formidable force on the high seas. More from the Post:
The purchase of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, had a considerable element of subterfuge about it. A Hong Kong-based businessman and former People’s Liberation Army basketball star, Xu Zengping, bought the ship from Ukraine in 1999 claiming he planned to turn it into a floating casino in Macao. Instead he gave it to the authorities, who refurbished it and eventually put it into service in 2012.China had been reluctant to purchase the ship in the 1990s because it was trying to repair its international image after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre; instead naval officials approached Xu to buy it on their behalf, the South China Morning Post reported. But, in an interview published last month, Xu told the paper that China had never repaid him any of the $120 million it ended up costing him.
As The Diplomat points out, it has been more or less an open secret for a while now that China is working to secure more aircraft carriers.China relies heavily on Middle Eastern oil and other critical supplies to keep it running, and the vast majority of those things pass by sea. Unless and until China develops a blue water navy that can credibly challenge if not surpass the U.S. Navy, ensuring safe sea trade from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf on Tonkin and beyond, America will remain the region’s top strategic power. Beijing knows that, and hates it, but the fact that China is still years out from completing its first proper carrier—the Liaoning has so far been used only as a training ship—while the U.S. has 10 nuclear carriers in service indicates that the Chinese challenge to America’s global power is not exactly imminent. But, even though China’s navy won’t be shaking up the global balance of power anytime soon, in its own region its opponents can’t be happy about this new development.