BEIJING — China commissioned its first domestically built aircraft carrier on Tuesday, reaching a new milestone in its own aspirations to construct a modern navy capable of demanding dominance of the seas, particularly in the Pacific.
China’s pioneer, Xi Jinping, presided over a commissioning ceremony in the naval base in Sanya, in the southern island of Hainan, in which the boat is going to be established, based on movie broadcast on China’s state television.
From there, the new provider will have the ability to project power across the contested islands of the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait — a growth that’s been watched warily by the USA and other Pacific forces, such as Japan and Australia.
“This is a significant landmark for China,” stated Matthew P. Funaiole, a senior fellow with the China Power Project in the middle For Strategic and International Studies in Washington who monitors the nation’s military developments. “There are just a couple of nations capable of aircraft carriers, and China currently has 2, which places it in elite company.”
China has begun a third carrier in a shipyard near Shanghai, and there are reports of plans for a fourth, that could allow it to be second only to the United States, which now contains 10 aircraft carriers in support.
The new carrier, known as the Shandong, is modeled after China’s initial, the Liaoning, that was bought from Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union for $20 million and furtively refurbished.
Liaoning joined the fleet of the People’s Liberation Army Navy at 2012, and although not tested in combat operations, it’s supplied the Chinese extensive expertise in conducting tough carrier operations, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual report on Chinese military power.
Both carriers are named after provinces in northeastern China. The new one is largely based on the first one’s Soviet-era design — with a distinctive sloping ramp for takeoffs — but it is believed to have included technological enhancements.
It was first put to sea in 2018 but appeared to endure difficulties during its sea trials that delayed its commissioning. As construction finished, the former general manager of the company that built it in the northern port city of Dalian, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, was arrested, tried and convicted of corruption. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in July.
The new carrier is designed to carry 36 J-15 fighter jets — the Liaoning has a capacity of 24 — as well as other aircraft and helicopters. The J-15’s, also copied from Soviet designs, have suffered a series of crashes that have called into question the country’s mastery of the technological challenges of naval aviation.
China’s two carriers are less sophisticated than the nuclear-powered fleet of the United States, but as symbols of global military power, they are significant achievements for a military that had for decades focused principally on land warfare.
Since taking office in 2012, Mr. Xi has overseen a sweeping modernization program of the powerful, tradition-bound military in China, and the huge expansion of the navy has been a centerpiece.
The navy “continues to develop into a global force, gradually extending its operational reach beyond East Asia into a sustained ability to operate at increasingly longer ranges,” the Pentagon’s report said.