After a bottle of champagne was smashed, China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier took to the sea for the first time in a much-anticipated ceremony on Wednesday morning.
The launch of the Shandong from a Dalian shipyard as China’s national anthem played on in the background drew extensive coverage from Chinese media along with patriotic praise from netizens around the country who have cast the moment as a sign of China’s growing naval power and technological mastery.
China first started developing the 50,000-ton vessel back in 2013 before construction began in March 2015. It is 315 meters long and 75 meters wide, with a cruising speed of 31 knots. It has more space than China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, a Soviet carrier that Beijing bought from an Ukrainian shipyard in 1998, and finally went into commission with the PLA Navy in 2012.
To celebrate the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese navy on Sunday, China’s Ministry of National Defense publicized a patriotic poster showing the Liaoning sailing through blue waters accompanied by an armada and fighter planes. However, netizens quickly noticed that the warships were American and the fighters were Russian.
Even after building its second carrier, analysts estimate that China only has 4% of America’s naval capacity, meaning that it likely won’t challenge the US Navy for dominance in the region anytime soon. Additionally, even before it was launched, the Shandong was obsolete by US standards. The “made in China” carrier uses a ski jump-style deck for takeoffs, rather than the standard steam piston catapults on American carriers. The Shandong is also powered by an oil-fueled steam turbine power plant rather than a nuclear reactor, making it more expensive to operate and requiring that it be refueled often.
China is reportedly already starting work on its third carrier, which the nationalistic tabloid, the Global Times, promises will be “much more advanced.” Meanwhile, the Shandong is set to be formally commissioned around 2020.
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