Is China building an aircraft carrier?

Is China building an aircraft carrier?

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It would seem like an easy question to answer, right? Hiding an aircraft carrier isn’t like slipping a knife into your pocket. But China watchers aren’t sure what’s going on in Beijing. In January 2006, Taiwan claimed to have evidence that mainland China was planning to build an entire carrier group, a charge Beijing immediately derided. The Chinese explained that they were merely converting a retired Ukrainian carrier, the Varyag, into a floating museum. But new questions are coming out. Joseph E. Lin writes in the Jamestown Foundation’s most recent China Brief:

At the recent Fifth Session of the 10th National People’s Congress held in Beijing, an admiral from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation claimed, off-the-record, that China has already begun the research and development (R&D) of an indigenously built aircraft carrier and could complete its construction by 2010.

Other admirals denied the claim or refused to comment. Lin points to some signs that may indicate that China is, in fact, building an aircraft carrier. And now, a Korean newspaper is claiming to have the goods:

China has been pushing ahead with construction of a mega-sized nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be completed in 2020, according to a Chinese Communist Party’s dossier.

A source close to Chinese military affairs said on March 27 that China has been promoting the construction of a 93,000-ton atomic-powered carrier under a plan titled the “085 Project.” The nation also has a plan to build a 48,000-ton non-nuclear-powered carrier under the so-called “089 Project,” added the source.

According to the article, China’s new nuclear-powered carrier group would be able to reach Guam, home to a major U.S. naval base. Against the backdrop of the United States pushing for greater transparency from the inscrutable Chinese military, it’s clear that somebody here is taking matters into his or her own hands. But who, and what’s the motive? One potential clue in the Korean article: 

The non-nuclear-powered carrier is reported to be a revised version of Ukraine’s Varyag, which China purchased in 1998.