China launches first domestically-made aircraft carrier
China has launched its first aircraft carrier built entirely on its own, in a demonstration of the growing technical sophistication of its defence industries.
The 50,000-ton carrier was towed from its dockyard following a ceremony in the northern port city of Dalian, where its predecessor, the Soviet-built Liaoning, underwent extensive refurbishing before being commissioned in 2012, the Ministry of National Defense said.
Development of the new carrier began in 2013 and construction in late 2015.
It is expected to be formally commissioned sometime before 2020, after sea trials and the arrival of its full air complement.
The carrier programme is a key part of China's naval expansion at a time when it is looking to beef-up its regional military influence to match its economic might.
While China says it maintains a defensive military policy, its ambitions are rattling some neighbours who see Beijing as fuelling already enflamed tensions in the region.
Chinese naval strategists see the carrier programme not only as a means to protect their country's maritime interests, but also to have "naval power commensurate with China's international status, to impress both external and domestic audiences," said Michael Chase, an expert on the Chinese military at US think tank the RAND Corporation.
The new carrier "is likely to be seen as further evidence of China's desire to become the most powerful and influential country in the region," he said.
That will be especially worrying to Indian security analysts who are already concerned about Beijing's ambitions in the Indian Ocean, he said.
India, along with Japan and Taiwan which also view Chinese carriers as threats, will likely respond by building new submarines and anti-ship missiles, said Ian Easton, a research Fellow at The Project 2049 Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
China's "expansionist behaviour in the South China Sea and its aggressive efforts to undermine the security of Taiwan and Japan, in particular, have translated into a situation where few countries now trust that Beijing has benign motives," Mr Easton said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated China's contention that it maintains a purely defence military posture and "sticks to the path of peaceful development".
"The purpose to develop national defence forces including the navy is to safeguard our national sovereignty, security and development interests, as well as the peace of the world," Mr Geng told reporters.
China has offered little information about the roles it expects its carriers to play, although its planning appears to be evolving as it gains more experience.
The Liaoning was initially touted mainly as an experimental and training platform, but in December was declared to be combat-ready and has taken part in live-firing exercises in the South China Sea, where tensions have risen over China's construction of man-made islands complete with airstrips and military structures.
Earlier this year, the Liaoning sailed through the Taiwan Strait, which was seen as a message to Taiwan - which China claims as its own territory to be brought under control by force if necessary.
Wednesday's launch was presided over by the vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission and Communist Party Central Committee, Fan Changlong, and came just three days after the anniversary of the People's Liberation Army Navy's symbolic founding in 1949.
Also attending was navy commander Vice Adm Shen Jinlong, a former commander of the South Sea Fleet responsible for defending China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.