China launched its third aircraft carrier on Friday, the first wholly planned and built in the nation, signalling a huge military milestone for the Asian giant.
The declaration comes as tensions between China and the US have risen dramatically in recent weeks as a result of Beijing’s belligerent rhetoric toward self-ruled Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province that should be reclaimed by force if necessary.
The Fujian was launched with considerable fanfare in a Shanghai shipyard and is more technologically advanced than the previous Chinese carriers.
According to state media CCTV, it is China’s “first catapult aircraft carrier that was entirely planned and built in China.”
The Fujian will take years to attain operational capability because the Ministry of Defense has yet to set a timetable for its deployment.
“After the ship is launched, sailing and mooring tests will be conducted as scheduled,” according to CCTV.
China operates two additional aircraft carriers.
The Liaoning was launched in 2012, and the Shandong will be operational in 2019.
They don’t have a catapult launcher technology like the Fujian and instead use a ski-jump like platform to launch planes.
According to the defence journal Janes, the United States now has the most aircraft carriers in service with 11, followed by China and the United Kingdom with two each.
Chinese warships have travelled through the strait that separates the island from the mainland several times, and have used fighter aircraft to thwart US and allied freedom of navigation missions.
Wei Fenghe, China’s defence minister, warned his American colleague last week that if Taiwan declares independence, Beijing will “not hesitate to start a war, no matter the cost.”
Modernisation of the military
Since taking office in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a huge revamp of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), promising to construct a “fully modern” force capable of competing with the US military by 2027.
China’s military expansion comes at a time of rising geopolitical tensions, as the US seeks to strengthen up military ties in the Asia-Pacific area.
Last year, the US struck a historic arrangement with Britain to transfer nuclear submarine technology with Australia, and since then, it has sold several weaponry to Taiwan, arousing Beijing’s wrath.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, China struck an unusual security deal with the Solomon Islands, which caught Washington and its allies off guard and stoked suspicions of another Chinese military site in the Pacific.