Third Aircraft Carrier to Help China Match U.S., Japan in Western Pacific: Analysts

The first-island chain runs south from Japan through Taiwan and the Philippines to Indonesia. Japanese and U.S. forces have traditionally had more strength than China in the wider Pacific Ocean to the east. Japan has two carriers under construction and the U.S. Navy operates 11.

Type 003’s aircraft-carrying technology is energy consumptive and some of it might do poorly in a battle outside the first-island chain – far from Chinese ports — Huang said.

Eventually, Type 003 will put to use technology that’s better than many foreign peers, said Chen Yi-fan, assistant professor of diplomacy and international relations at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

He pointed to a “very advanced” domestically made electronic magnetic catapult. “It was jumping at least two generations ahead of other aircraft carriers,” he said.

But Type 003 would struggle outside the first-island chain for lack of bases where it could resupply, Chen said. The United States, in contrast, has bases in Hawaii, Guam and Japan.

Future Battlefields?
Type 003 is expected to report back to Fujian province in China’s southeast near Taiwan, Chen said. The Liaoning and Shandong are assigned to other nearby seas, he added.

China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan as its territory since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost to Mao Zedong’s Communists and rebased in Taipei. Beijing says it will use force, if needed, to unite the two sides. Since mid-2020, it has flown land-based military planes over part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone almost daily.

The Shandong has done at least one exercise in the South China Sea, according to the Chinese state-monitored Global Times news website. The first carrier, Liaoning, is believed to cover the East China Sea.

Beijing claims about 90% of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea as its own, clashing with the claims of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Japan and the United States have urged China to leave the sea open for international use and both have voiced support for Taiwan. Washington periodically passes its own carriers near the island as a warning to Beijing.

PLA see their aircraft power as “weakening” now as Vietnam and the Philippines acquire missiles that could attack back, Huang said.

The Philippines was moving earlier this year to buy BrahMos anti-ship missiles from an Indian-Russian joint venture. Vietnam has expressed interest in the same missiles.

“I think it is very risky for the regional security in the future, when China can have like three aircraft carriers, not only the South China Sea, but also the East China Sea,” said Nguyen Thanh Trung, a faculty member at Fulbright University Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ralph Jennings is a writer covering China. The article is published courtesy of the Voice of America (VOA).