Asia's Game of Thrones
China’s New Carrier (Almost) Ready for Launch

China’s much-anticipated, home-built aircraft carrier is about to make its debut, reports South China Morning Post

China was making final preparations to launch its first domestically built aircraft carrier as it marked the 68th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy ­on Sunday.

The scaffolding around the ship, temporarily named the Type 001A, was removed and the deck was cleared, Shanghai-based news portal thepaper.cn reported, suggesting that the launch date was getting close. […]

From the successful refitting of the Liaoning in 2011 and its commission a year later, China spent just five years to produce the 001A. Even though its layout is almost the same, the new carrier features the latest equipment, including a bigger hangar to carry more J-15 fighters and more space on deck for helicopters and other aircraft.

The new carrier’s launch is sure to be a point of pride for Chinese nationalists, who have been cheering the effort as a sign of China’s growing maritime ambitions. But the Chinese achievement hardly implies a decisive change in the balance of power with the United States. Once the Type 001A is officially commissioned—which may take another two to three years after its initial launch—China will have a grand total of two aircraft carriers, one of them a refurbished Ukrainian model. By comparison, the United States has 10 carriers, four of which are deployed in the Asia-Pacific alone.

Still, this is not reason for complacency: China has already begun work on a third carrier in Shanghai, and its plans to build up to six carriers, and ten naval bases to host them, are already spooking neighbors like India. China’s quest for a blue-water navy, capable of projecting power globally and securing access to its sea-trade routes, may be years away. But after the steady growth of China’s maritime reach during the Obama years, the United States still needs a credible strategy to convince China’s neighbors that it will remain the top dog in the Pacific for years to come.

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