Its arrival was three days late—it missed the PLA Navy’s April 23 anniversary—but for China’s leaders, it was well worth the wait. The unveiling of the ship, China’s yet-to-be-christened first homegrown aircraft carrier (known simply as Type 001A now) has made waves around Asia. It’s only the second carrier in the fleet of the PLA navy (PLAN), joining the Liaoning, a refitted version of a Soviet-era Ukrainian vessel, the Varyag.
China has long looked on enviously, not just at America’s 10 aircraft carrier strike groups that strutted around the Pacific—and on occasion sailed right into the Taiwan Strait to make a point—but even at India, whose aircraft carriers were a powerful symbol of its navy’s dominant presence in the Indian Ocean. Now, China’s strategic experts believe, the balance of power in Asia is shifting.
Type 001A (soon to be named the ‘Shandong’ after the eastern Chinese province, say reports) was built by China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC), a state-run behemoth which is the backbone of China’s vast homegrown shipbuilding industry. It may be deployed by 2020, just five years after the first bolts were fastened on to its hull. And more carriers are on the way. In the Jiangnan shipyard near Shanghai, the China State Shipbuilding Corp (CSSC), another state-run construction giant, is working on a more advanced carrier that will hold more J-15