Taiwan sees delays in mainland constructing its aircraft carrier

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 November, 2009, 12:00am

The mainland is experiencing difficulty and delays building its first aircraft carrier - a key plank in a military build-up that has raised concerns in the Asia-Pacific region.

Unless there is a breakthrough in its industrial and technological competence, it would be difficult for the People's Liberation Army to meet its goal of having an indigenously built naval battle group by 2012, a top Taiwanese security chief said yesterday.

'The Chinese Communists originally hoped to have the aircraft carrier by 2012, but given the slow progress, it would be difficult for them to accomplish their goal,' said Tsai Teh-sheng, director of Taiwan's National Security Bureau.

Citing intelligence obtained by the bureau, Tsai said the PLA had already started its ambitious aircraft carrier construction project, but technical problems hampered it.

'Even the PLA itself has made such an observation when making internal assessments of the project,' Tsai said, responding to legislators. But Tsai said there was no sign that the PLA would alter its 2012 target.

Asked why he was so certain about the problems on progress of the carrier, Tsai said Taiwan's intelligence was highly accurate. 'A number of countries have sought to co-operate with us in gathering intelligence about the mainland.'

Reports about the PLA building aircraft carriers have evoked concerns worldwide and especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Since the mainland bought the unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag in the late 1990s, reports about PLA ambitions to build a carrier have abounded.

In March, China's defence minister, Liang Guanglie told Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada that China was the only big nation in the world that had no aircraft carrier, and that that would change - a clear sign for the first time from a top military leader that the PLA would build its own carrier.

A Taiwanese military officer, who requested anonymity, said yesterday that the PLA construction project began as early as last year when Jiangnan Shipyard Group in Shanghai and five other mainland shipbuilding yards were told to prepare for the plan, costing about 35 billion yuan (HK$40 billion).

He said the PLA hoped to build a carrier of 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes, the structure of which it could complete in three to five years. But fitting it with weapons and completing it would take several more years.