The carrier has been the focus of intense interest among military observers and rival nations tracking the development of China’s navy. China’s first two carriers include a retrofit of an old Soviet model, the Liaoning, bought from Ukraine in 1998, and the Shandong, which was built in China but based on the Liaoning model and commissioned in 2019.
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It is the first Chinese carrier to be equipped with an electromagnetic catapult for launching aircraft, including those with a heavier payload, faster and more efficiently. The technology leapfrogs the “ski jump” configuration for launching jets via a ramp at the end of a runway used on China’s other two carriers.
“The Fujian brings a whole new level of capability to the table compared to the Liaoning and Shandong,” said Collin Koh, an expert on the People’s Liberation Army Navy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
While Chinese military analysts and blogs have hailed the carrier as “China’s answer to the USS Gerald R. Ford,” commissioned in 2017, much of its capabilities are still unknown. The Ford was the world’s largest and most advanced carrier when it was built.
“There’s extremely scant info emanating on the Fujian and, for that matter, the PLA Navy’s carrier program. The exact capabilities and their performance are shrouded in much secrecy,” said Koh, referring to the People’s Liberation Army.
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The launch of China’s most advanced carrier comes amid increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, where China and its neighbors have competing territorial claims. The recent signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands and the unveiling of a naval facility in Cambodia have raised further concerns about Beijing’s reach into Gulf of Thailand and the South Pacific.
The carrier is named after the Chinese province facing Taiwan.
Lyric Li in Seoul and Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.