BEIJING – People’s Liberation Army Navy has officially adopted into service its first (partially) domestically-built aircraft carrier, the second carrier in its naval fleet, at a key base on the shores of the disputed South China Sea, official Chinese media reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the official commissioning ceremony of the country’s first (partially) home-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong, at a naval port in Sanya in China’s southern Hainan Province, on Tuesday afternoon, the state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The Chinese leader, who is overseeing a comprehensive plan to modernize the Chinese military by developing everything from stealth jets to anti-satellite missiles, boarded the warship and chatted with its service personnel at the ceremony.
He also offered his affirmation of China’s success at manufacturing the carrier, which is a significant milestone in the country’s efforts to build up its naval power, and officially handed over the ship to the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Back in November, the Shandong, which was unnamed at the time, passed through the strategically sensitive Taiwan Strait on its way to China’s military drills in the South China Sea. The aircraft carrier set out for its first sea trial in May last year.
The 50,000-ton carrier is a modified version of the Soviet/Russian Kuznetsov-class design that features upgraded radar and bridge systems and a ski-jump deck for take-offs. It will also be able to carry 36 J-15 warplanes. According to Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie, the Shandong is, in total, capable of carrying 40 aircraft, including Z-9 helicopters and KJ-600 early warning planes.
The warship was built by the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry in China’s northeastern province of Liaoning. The company commenced work on the carrier in November 2013 and laid down the keel for its hull in a dry dock in March 2015. China’s first aircraft carrier is called Liaoning. It was laid down as Riga at the Black Sea Shipyard in Ukraine in 1985 and joined the Soviet Navy in 1988 and was renamed Varyag in 1990.
China purchased the stripped hulk in 1998. The 60,000-ton aircraft carrier was then completely rebuilt, underwent sea trials, and was handed over to the PLAN on September 23, 2012, two days before she was commissioned under the new name of Liaoning, in honor of the province in which she was retrofitted.
China has been using the Liaoning mainly for training, as the navy hones its ability to operate warplanes at sea and with other warships. China’s military has not formally announced plans for a third aircraft carrier, but state media have said it is being built.
The Tuesday ceremony was held at a major facility on the coast of the South China Sea, over which claims almost full sovereignty. However, it is partially contested by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The United States has time and again risked heightening tensions with China through its military presence in the South China Sea, questioning China’s insistence on sovereignty over the disputed waters. Beijing has, in response, accused Washington of deliberately escalating the situation in the region.