March 2, 2018 / 1:17 AM / 22 days ago

China ready to build larger aircraft carriers, paper says

BEIJING, March 2 (Reuters) - China is ready to build larger aircraft carriers having mastered the technical ability to do so, a major state-run newspaper said on Friday ahead of the release of the country’s annual defence budget.

President Xi Jinping pledged in October to turn China’s military into a world-class fighting force by 2050 and has made new technology development a key policy plank, investing in stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and missiles.

China already has one operational carrier, the second-hand Soviet-era Liaoning bought from Ukraine in 1998, and is carrying out tests on its first indigenously built carrier, launched last year and expected to enter service in 2020.

Liu Zheng, chairman of Dalian Shipbuilding Industry in Liaoning province, said his company and its parent, China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, the world’s largest shipbuilder, could design and build carriers.

“We have complete ownership of the expertise, in terms of design, technology, technique, manufacturing and project management, that is needed to make an advanced carrier,” Liu told the official China Daily ahead of Monday’s opening of the annual session of parliament.

“We are ready to build larger ones,” he said.

China Shipbuilding said earlier this week they were developing technologies to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Little is known about China’s aircraft carrier programme, which is a state secret.

State media has quoted experts as saying that China needs at least six carriers, an endeavour expected to take decades. The United States operates 10 and plans to build two more.

China’s navy has been taking an increasingly prominent role over the past year, with its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and new Chinese warships popping up in far-flung places.

China unveils its 2018 defence budget when parliament opens next week, a closely watched figure around the region and in Washington for signs of China’s strategic intentions. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard Editing by Paul Tait)

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