China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier Wednesday morning at a grand ceremony, with navy officers and military supporters hailing the country's military achievement.
At 9:20 am, six tugboats started to pull the Type 001A carrier out of the dock where it has been under construction in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, amid the applause and cheers of hundreds of military enthusiasts who came from Dalian and other places to witness the event.
The carrier then docked at the outfitting quay.
It's the country's second carrier after the Liaoning, and is expected to be commissioned before 2020.
The launch ceremony included the playing of the national anthem, ribbon-cutting, the breaking of a champagne bottle on the bow, and nearby ships blowing their steam whistles.
Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, as well as officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy attended the ceremony.
A 28-year-old military enthusiast surnamed Gao from Beijing told the Global Times that "In the past, when the US has a problem overseas, its president could ask his team, 'Where are our carriers?' Now, China has entered the dual-carrier era, and our leaders will soon be able to ask the same question when we have a problem overseas."
China's first carrier, the Liaoning, is a refitted former Soviet Union-era carrier that was commissioned by the PLA navy in 2012. Construction on the Type 001A began in November 2013.
The Liaoning was mainly built for tests and training, while the Type 001A is being built for combat, said Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert.
The new aircraft carrier's main structure has been completed, with equipment of major systems, including propulsion and electricity, installed. Putting the carrier into the water marks progress in China's efforts to design and build a domestic aircraft carrier. The new carrier will undergo equipment debugging, outfitting and comprehensive mooring trials.
Li told the Global Times that the Type 001A would be more advanced than the Liaoning.
"Although the design is similar to the Liaoning, it will be an improvement on the old-school Soviet designs, and China's most developed phased array radar system will be installed. It can carry more than 30 fighter jets, which is at least 30 percent better than the Liaoning."
China will build more aircraft carriers with more sophisticated technology, and will someday build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with an Electromagnetic Catapult System, Li said. But we need to start from the basics and enhance the development of carriers step by step, he said.
China doesn't need 10 carriers like the US, because it doesn't have a global hegemonic strategy, so six carriers would be enough, said Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
Not meant for Taiwan
The name of the new vessel has yet to be announced. In a survey conducted by news portal ifeng about "what name should be iven to the new carrier," "Taiwan" emerged as the most popular choice among the respondents, followed by "Shandong."
Many Chinese Net users said they hope that "the carrier would contribute to the unification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait."
Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said Wednesday he was proud of the great achievement made by the country in modernizing the country's national defense and the military.
"[The launch of the new carrier] will help strengthen our capability to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity, as well as major and core interests," Ma said.
On January 12, the Liaoning and several other PLA navy vessels navigated through the Taiwan Strait, with many observers saying it was a message to the Taiwan administration.
However, military expert Song Zhongping, who used to serve in the PLA Rocket Force, said the new aircraft carrier is not being made to target Taiwan.
"Although our aircraft carriers can strengthen our military power if we have to solve the Taiwan Question by force, there are more important missions in the open seas, including preparing for potential military conflicts in the South China Sea and guarding the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in the Indian Ocean," he said.
Taiwan is too close to the Chinese mainland, so we don't really need an aircraft carrier to extend the combat radius of our aircraft, Li said.