From Ashai Shimbun 14 Feb 2009.
BEIJING--In a move likely to stoke concerns in Tokyo, Washington and throughout Asia, China plans to greatly expand the reach and firepower of its navy by building at least two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
Analysts believe China is expanding its naval power as part of a push toward strategic dominance over the western Pacific, including the waters that surround Japan.
Military sources said the first nuclear-powered flattops would be constructed in 2020 or later. China will begin construction of two conventional aircraft carriers this year.
According to sources, a meeting was held in Beijing on Dec. 30 among military officials.
A high-ranking military officer said the navy would begin construction of the two conventional aircraft carriers this year. Production of parts for the electricity control system has already begun in China and plans call for completing the two conventional carriers by around 2015.
A system for operating those carriers will be established by 2020, according to sources. Those two carriers would allow Beijing to extend its defensive reach beyond a so-called 1st extended defensive line linking Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The two nuclear-power carriers being considered would be about 60,000 tons in displacement. Chinese officials have already obtained blueprints from Russia for the Ulyanovsk nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which Russia no longer intends to build.
Chinese officials will likely use the blueprint as a reference point for their own development of a nuclear-powered carrier.
Analysts said China eventually wants to secure maritime control over the western Pacific that would lie within a so-called 2nd extended defensive line stretching from Japan to Guam and Indonesia.
The ultimate goal for China would be serving as a counter force to the U.S. Navy for the entire Pacific and Indian oceans.
A Chinese military source said: "The two conventional aircraft carriers we will begin constructing from this year will only be the opening gambit. While constructing and operating nuclear-powered aircraft carriers will require huge amounts of money, it will not be a large barrier considering our present pace of economic development, so there is the possibility of building even more in the future."
The white paper on national defense released by China on Jan. 20 for the first time clearly stated a policy of "improving strategic capabilities in distant waters." However, no mention was made of constructing aircraft carriers.
The Chinese navy has set up a special task force for construction of aircraft carriers titled, "the 048 office."
Construction has already begun on a wharf along Yalong Bay in the Sanya district of Hainan island. The wharf would provide base functions for aircraft carriers as well as include underground storage for ammunition.
Currently, only the United States and France have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
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