China has announced that it is building a second aircraft carrier — and its first using entirely domestic technology — as the country seeks to project its military influence farther from its shores.
The new carrier is being built from scratch with domestic technology in the northeastern port city of Dalian, China's defense ministry announced on New Year's Eve. It "has a displacement of over 50,000 tons and uses regular engines," ministry spokesman Col. Yang Yujun said in a news conference, according to a statement on the ministry's website. "It can load J-15 and other carrier-loaded aircrafts."
China's first aircraft carrier, a refurbished 25-year-old Ukrainian ship called the Liaoning, was put into service in 2012.
"China always adheres to the path of peaceful development, and firmly upholds an independent foreign policy of peace and a defensive national defense policy," Yang continued. "We have a long coastline and a vast maritime area under jurisdiction. To safeguard maritime security, sovereignty, and interests and rights is the sacred mission of the Chinese armed forces."
Yang added that the military has "drawn on a lot of useful experience from the scientific tests and training of the first aircraft carrier," and that the new carrier will have improvements in many areas. He did not give a timeline for the carrier's completion.
Beijing in recent years has stepped up its territorial claims in the South and East China seas — parts of which are also claimed by Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan — with a degree of aggression that has surprised observers and strained diplomatic ties.
Beijing claims most of the 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea, and despite strong protests by its neighbors, has overseen an elaborate artificial island-building project on reefs also claimed by the Philippines.
The U.S. has deployed its own aircraft carriers to the area — including a high-profile October patrol within 12 nautical miles of the islands — drawing harsh rebukes from Beijing.
The South China Sea is thought to be rich in oil and gas; more than $5 trillion in global trade passes through the sea every year.
Military analysts, both Chinese and foreign, have for months been circulating images of an incomplete aircraft carrier hull in Dalian, causing speculation that a second carrier was in the works.
"The new hull, first noted under construction in imagery captured on 10 March, is in an advanced state of assembly," said a September post on the website of the military intelligence magazine IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
Only 12 countries maintain active aircraft carriers, and very few have more than one. The U.S. maintains 19 ships that could be classified as aircraft carriers, far more than any other country.
Tommy Yang in The Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.