China has begun construction on their first modern aircraft carrier in Shanghai, according to photos obtained by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The ship will be China’s third aircraft carrier in total, but the first to be equipped with modern technology that could potentially rival American naval technologies.
The photos from the ChinaPower Project at CSIS show that the vessel should be bigger than China’s two previous carriers, which were constructed based on Soviet-era models. There’s also a possibility that the ship will be outfitted with an electromagnetic catapult for launching fighters from its deck, ChinaPower’s Matthew Funaiole told the Washington Post. The first vessel in the world to utilize that technology is the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, which was commissioned in 2017.
[NEW IMAGERY] Satellite imagery from August 18 reveals new insights into China’s process for constructing aircraft carriers at Jiangnan Shipyard. Read the full analysis: https://t.co/MbfySMcWGb pic.twitter.com/r0FqGXzVd8
— ChinaPower (@ChinaPowerCSIS) September 16, 2020
While Chinese state-run media confirmed the new ship was under construction in November 2018, details were not yet known about the specific makeup and outfitting of the third carrier. Now it is clear it will be a step forward from the country’s second such ship, launched in 2017. The new carrier, which is only the second of the three to be constructed domestically in China, is expected to be ready by 2023, according to a Department of Defense (D.O.D.) report.
China is already planning to construct a fourth carrier, and could intend to eventually produce as many as six, according to scholars cited by the Washington Post. As China continues to compete on similar footing with the U.S. economically and in terms of ground forces, they’re now trying to catch up in the naval realm, one expert told the Post.
The U.S. still spends almost triple the amount of China on its military, but the gap has been closing. America currently has 11 nuclear-powered carriers in service, with sights set on building more within the Ford class. (RELATED: 5 Chinese Nationals, 2 Malaysian Nationals Charged With Hacking, Department Of Justice Announces)
The possible motivations for this naval expansion are outlined in the D.O.D. report. China currently has the capability to both defend and launch offensive operations within the “First Island Chain” which surrounds China’s coasts, including Japan, the Philippines, and most notably, Taiwan. However, Chinese leaders allegedly seek to expand operational capabilities out to the “Second Island Chain”, which expands further past Japan and contains the U.S. territory of Guam, according to the D.O.D. report.
China has also been investing heavily in new amphibious landing ships, missile systems, and warning aircrafts, according to the Washington Post and the D.O.D. report. With the increased hostility in recent years between the Trump administration and the Chinese Communist Party, alongside Chinese crackdowns in Hong Kong, there are growing concerns Taiwan could be a future source of conflict. These developments by the Chinese military are largely aimed at preparing for such a conflict, the D.O.D. says.
China has claimed rightful ownership of Taiwan since the two separated into distinct governments after the Chinese communist revolution. At the time, Taiwan was a refuge for the Chinese nationalist government that was ousted by the communists. Now, Taiwan has become a rapidly developing economy that is much more liberalized than China in the area of human rights. The Trump administration has strengthened relations with Taiwan, and recently the U.S. agreed to a new weapons deal with the island. Tensions have escalated in recent years, with China saying in 2019 that unification by force was “on the table.”