The Chinese navy’s newest flattop, the Shandong, put to sea this week for trials, aims to dominate regional and even global rivals, according to domestic media.
The South China Morning Post, published in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, reports:
China’s first home-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong, will focus its mission on the disputed South China Sea and having face-to-face encounters with foreign vessels, state media said on Wednesday.
The new warship, commissioned on Tuesday, would be used for combat, mainly for gaining control of seas claimed by China, rather than focusing only on training missions like China’s first aircraft carrier the Liaoning, the reports said.
“The main strategic focus of the Shandong will be on waters around the South China Sea,” a commentary published by a social media account affiliated with Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily said on Wednesday.
“Recently, military vessels and aircraft from some nations have been carrying out so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, stirring up troubles and challenging China’s national sovereignty,” it said.
Fact is, the new Chinese carrier is several operational levels below that of even older U.S. Navy carriers. The Shandong does not have a nuclear power plant, carries about a third of the combat aircraft American flattops carry, and does not have anywhere near the combat capabilities.
However, the fact that the Chinese were able to construct a carrier of their own, which is based on an old Soviet design, is itself an accomplishment.
Various reports claim that the People’s Liberation Army Navy wants to put as many as six carriers to sea by the 2030s, including larger nuclear-powered vessels if it can afford them.
“The aircraft strike group headed by the Shandong will be deployed to the South China Sea. It is very likely that it will have face-to-face encounters with foreign military vessels,” the People’s Daily said without mentioning any countries in particular (though the U.S. is a constant thorn in Beijing’s side).
However, the PLAN’s carriers will be more than a match for regional navies — the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam — all of whom have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.