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China reveals aircraft carrier plans

Ananth Krishnan


Amid rising naval tensions with neighbours in the South China Sea

One dead in clash between Chinese fishermen and South Korean coast guard


BEIJING: The Chinese government has confirmed it has launched a programme to build an aircraft carrier, amid rising maritime tensions between China and several of its neighbours in the South China Sea.

A report released by the State Oceanic Administration said China's progress had even been quicker than expected, with the first Chinese-made carrier set to be ready in 2014, a year ahead of schedule. While China's aircraft carrier plans are widely known, this is the first official confirmation of the highly secretive project.

It comes against the backdrop of rising naval tensions between China and its neighbours in recent months. Tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea have resurfaced, as have maritime disputes between China and Japan over the disputed Diaoyu or Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

On Friday, Japan announced a new defence policy, its first since 2004, which warned of a growing military threat to the international community from China, and indicated that Japan would strengthen security arrangements around disputed islands.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly hit out at the defence policy. “A certain country has no right to act as a representative of the international community and make irresponsible remarks on China's development,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said. “China unswervingly follows the path of peaceful development, and its defence policy is defensive in nature.”

In September, a clash between Chinese fishermen and Japanese coast guards near the disputed East China Sea islands snowballed into a major diplomatic row.

Many of China's neighbours say Beijing's territorial claims over disputed waters has grown more assertive. China has recently stressed its “indisputable sovereignty” over the whole of the South China Sea, whose waters are disputed by at least ten South-East Asian countries.

Concerns have also risen in Seoul, following Saturday's clash between Chinese fishermen and South Korean coast guard vessels in waters off the western South Korean coast, near the city of Gunsan. South Korean officials said around 50 Chinese vessels were illegally fishing. One Chinese fisherman died in the clash, while others are missing.

The State Oceanic Administration's report on the aircraft carrier, a copy of which was obtained by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, said some Chinese leaders were reluctant to announce the plans fearing it would “fan concerns in neighbouring countries”.

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