China launches its third aircraft carrier, Fujian

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China launched its biggest and most modern aircraft carrier on Friday, according to state broadcaster CCTV, the first domestically designed and built ship of its kind and a symbol of the country’s expanding military might.

At a unveiling ceremony held at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard, officials unveiled the Type 003 warship. The Fujian – which officials cited in state media said would not be ready for battle for five years – is a major milestone in ambition of Beijing to develop a “blue water” navy capable of projecting power far beyond its shores.

The aircraft carrier has been the focus of intense interest among military observers and rival nations following the development of the Chinese navy. China’s first two aircraft carriers include a retrofit of an old Soviet model, the Liaoning, purchased from Ukraine in 1998, and the Shandong, which was built in China but based on the Liaoning model and commissioned in 2019.

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It is the first Chinese aircraft carrier to be equipped with an electromagnetic catapult to launch aircraft, including those with the heaviest payload, more quickly and efficiently. The technology surpasses the “ski jump” configuration to launch jets through a ramp at the end of a runway used on the other two Chinese carriers.

“Fujian brings a whole new level of capability to the table compared to Liaoning and Shandong,” said Collin Koh, a People’s Liberation Army Navy Specialist at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

While Chinese military analysts and bloggers have hailed the aircraft carrier as “China’s answer to the USS Gerald R. Ford” commissioned in 2017, many of its capabilities are still unknown. The Ford was the largest and most advanced aircraft carrier in the world when it was built.

“There is extremely scant information emanating from Fujian and, for that matter, from the PLA Navy’s aircraft carrier program. The exact capabilities and their performance are shrouded in much secrecy,” Koh said, referring to the People’s Liberation Army.

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The launch of China’s most advanced aircraft carrier comes amid rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, where China and its neighbors have competing territorial claims. The recent signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands and the opening of a naval facility in Cambodia have raised further concerns about Beijing’s reach in the Gulf of Thailand and the South Pacific.

The carrier is named after the Chinese province facing Taiwan.

Lyric Li in Seoul and Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.

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