China has launched its first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier, state media said Wednesday, as the country seeks to transform its navy into a force capable of projecting power onto the high seas.
Adorned with colourful ribbons, the Type 001A ship “transferred from dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony” in the northeastern port city of Dalian, according to official broadcaster CCTV.
The ribbon-cutting was followed by the traditional breaking of a champagne bottle on the ship’s bow.
Analysts said the ship represented a “status symbol” for Beijing in a contested region but posed little threat to advanced US carriers.
China’s defence ministry has previously said the new carrier would displace 50,000 tonnes and use conventional rather than nuclear propulsion.
It is expected to carry China’s indigenous J-15 aircraft, along with other planes.
“The launch of the new aircraft carrier is primarily a symbolic event because it will take about two years for the vessel to be equipped and to make its first real tests overboard,” according to Juliette Genevaz, China researcher at the France-based Military School Strategic Research Institute.
Nevertheless, Genevaz said, it is a “technological leap” for China as it signals the development of more native aircraft carriers in the future.
Type 001A is China’s new class of carrier. The country first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a secondhand Soviet ship built more than 25 years ago and commissioned in 2012 after extensive refits.
The possession of a native aircraft carrier places China among the few military powers with such vessels, including the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom.
But experts were quick to point out that China’s naval force still lags far behind that of the US, the world’s leading military power which has multiple carriers.
James Char, China military analyst at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the new vessel will serve as more of a “status symbol” for China in the East and South China seas.
“It is highly unlikely to pose a threat to the US if you look at how advanced American aircraft carriers are,” Char said.
The announcement is part of China’s efforts to build a blue water navy capable of projecting power.
The Liaoning conducted its first live fire drill in December before heading to the South China Sea, raising concerns in Taiwan and neighbouring countries, such as Japan and Vietnam, who have overlapping territorial claims with China in the East and South China Sea.