As a part of a continuing effort to expand Chinese naval presence and project power across the South China Sea, the communist government has completed construction of the world’s largest aircraft carrier dock. The dock is 700 feet long and can service two ships at a time.
“The onshore support facilities include docking ports for the aircraft carriers, airports, training facilities and so on,” Yang Yujun, a spokesperson for China’s defense ministry, said.
As of now, China only has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. It is a Soviet-era ship, bought from Ukraine, retrofitted with more modern upgrades, including several warheads. However, the Chinese government has confirmed that it is constructing another aircraft, and it may even be nuclear-powered. “The priority missions of building the aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines have been carried out smoothly and with outstanding achievements,” a leaked report read.
There is also speculation that the government in Beijing may order the construction of up to four more aircraft carriers. “China continues to pursue an indigenous aircraft carrier program and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years,” a report from the United States Department of Defense said.
In contrast, the United States has ten currently active aircraft carriers, and two more under construction.
China has come under fire in recent months due to what other regional powers see as an aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific Ocean. Ever since 2012, China has expressed a desire to be a “great maritime power” with hegemony in the Pacific. Over the last several months, China has been building up a practical archipelago of artificial islands in the region. Many believe that these islands will eventually host military instillations. For instance, a watchdog group claims that China is looking to construct more airstrips on some of the islands in the South China Sea to expand the range of their potential power projection.
“A Chinese airbase at Fiery Cross Reef would allow for much-improved situational awareness…China may be more readily able to use the airbase for patrols or limited offensive operations against other South China Sea claimants, or even United States assets,” the group said.
At this week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference, China hopes to avoid any discussion of this new implementation of their foreign policy doctrine. However, experts believe that the United States will force a conversation about it.