China Plans Next Generation of Carriers as Sea Disputes Broaden

April 24, 2013

BEIJING ¡V China unveiled plans to build more aircraft carriers after commissioning its first last year, as the country extends its influence amid territorial disputes with neighbors including Japan and Vietnam.

Future aircraft carriers will carry more fighter jets than the Liaoning, Rear Admiral Song Xue told foreign military attaches yesterday in Beijing, according to the official Xinhua New Agency. The carrier was built around a Soviet-era hull and began trials at sea last year.

Song Xue says China plans to operate more aircraft carriers in the future that will be even larger and carry more aircraft than the initial one launched last year.

The comments from deputy navy chief Song Xue reported Wednesday by the official Xinhua News Agency marked the clearest indication yet that China plans to expand its carrier program. Song didn't give a specific number, saying only, "We won't have just one."

China spent a decade refurbishing a derelict Soviet-era carrier bought from Ukraine before commissioning it as the Liaoning last year. The carrier is part of a major expansion of the Chinese navy that is equipping it with sophisticated new surface ships and submarines, prompting China's neighbors to upgrade and enlarge their own navies.

The remarks signal that the People¡¦s Liberation Army will push ahead with a modernization plan under which defense spending has more than doubled since 2006. China has been more assertive in pressing sovereignty claims against Japan as well as Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

¡§This only adds publicly to what many believed to be the case: that the Liaoning is a training or ¡¥starter¡¦ carrier and eventually China would build larger and more capable ones,¡¨ Taylor Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on China¡¦s relations with its neighbors, said by e-mail.

¡§It suggests that today¡¦s PLA is much more confident than in the past regarding its willingness to talk about future military programs.¡¨

Island Tensions

At the same time, tensions between China and have escalated over islands in the East China Sea claimed by both sides. Yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to use force if necessary to defend the islands, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

China and Japan each issued formal protests yesterday over the presence of each other¡¦s vessels in waters around the islands, which lie in an area rich in fish and natural gas. China also protested after members of Abe¡¦s government visited a Tokyo shrine seen in Asia as a symbol of wartime aggression.

¡§Relations between China and Japan are at their worst since diplomatic ties were established in 1972,¡¨ Rumi Aoyama, a professor of Chinese studies at Waseda University in Tokyo, said yesterday. ¡§At this point, it¡¦s about maintaining lines of communication to make sure things don¡¦t get worse.¡¨

Eight Chinese vessels were in waters administered by Japan as of 3 p.m. yesterday, the Japanese Coast Guard said. Xinhua said Chinese surveillance ships ¡§drove away¡¨ Japanese fishing boats in the waters, citing the State Oceanic Administration.