While the U.S. is mired in political wrangling and a stagnant economy, China has made the possibly game-changing strategic decision to build its own aircraft carriers.
The Washington Times is reporting that Pentagon officials believe China is now building at least one if not two indigenous aircraft carriers, and may be working on more in the near future. Reuters reported last week that an unnamed Chinese official claimed "two aircraft carriers are being built at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai."
This indigenous carrier construction is in addition to a confirmed Soviet-era aircraft carrier China purchased from Ukraine called the Varyag that has almost completed its refitting for use in "scientific research, experiment, and training," according to the Chinese government. When it was originally purchased in 1998, the Chinese claimed the Varyag would be turned it into a floating casino.
The BBC reported this past June on the Varyag here, calling it one of China's worst kept secrets (google images provided clear photos of the vessel). But an enhanced version of the vessel may be launched any day now, marking the first time China would have an operational aircraft carrier on the open sea.
Other than the aged Varyag, it is not currently clear how many carriers China is building, or plans to build, but it appears likely that plans for two or three carriers are underway. A Chinese Ministry of defense spokesman told reporters this past Wednesday that "Building...aircraft carriers is a sacred responsibility of China’s armed forces," but added that "both overestimation and underestimation of China's future aircraft carrier have been wrong.”
China's production of aircraft carriers comes amidst already heightened tensions in t
he region with neighbors such as Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines- all of whom have had diplomatic incidents with Chinese resulting from boat crashes and maritime territorial disputes. These countries are concerned that aircraft carriers would allow China to assert supremacy in disputed waters including the South China sea and Yellow Sea. Japan is boosting its submarine production in response to what it sees as provocations by China.
It is also well-known in the region and around the globe that China is building up its military capabilities across the board. As the Washington Times reports it, China's military is:
"engaged in a large-scale buildup that includes new strategic and conventional missiles, aircraft, anti-satellite weaponry and a new ballistic missile for targeting ships at sea."
The U.S., on the other hand, is looking at up to a trillion dollars of defense cuts over the next decade, including possibly imminent $10 billion a year cuts from the Navy.