China’s first aircraft carrier, the ex-Soviet Varyag, has set sail on its second sea trial, according to the Chinese Ministry of National Defence.
The 304 metre long ship left Dalian port on Tuesday more than three months after it departed for its first sea trial on August 10.
“China’s aircraft carrier platform, after successfully completing its first sea trial in August, returned to the shipyard as planned for further refitting and testing,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
“The work has been carried out and it set sail again on November 29 to carry out relevant scientific and research experiments.”
The Varyag, which a Chinese firm bought from the Ukraine in 1998 for US$20 million, is currently being refurbished by the Chinese navy in the port city of Dalian in northeast China and will be officially launched around October next year.
It will most likely be followed by two completely indigenously built aircraft carriers. The cost of building a medium-sized conventionally powered, 60,000-tonne carrier similar to the Russian Kuznetsov class could exceed US$2 billion.
China will be the third Asian country to have a carrier after India and Thailand, something that has caused unease in the region.
It would take China several decades to match the U.S.’s current carrier fleet of 11, but Beijing only needs a few to enhance its ability to deny U.S. forces access to waters around China in the event of a regional conflict, or to protect its shipping lanes and other perceived national interests overseas.
To be effective, at least two or three carriers are required, so that at least one can remain active while another undergoes repairs, and each active one requires its own carrier group including several other vessels, according to Chinese and foreign defence experts. China is believed to be building another two indigenous aircraft carriers.
The announcement of the carrier’s second sea trial comes after Beijing said it would conduct “routine” naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean.
President Barack Obama last month ruffled Beijing when agreed to host a de facto U.S. base in the north of Australia which would provide military reach into southeast Asia and the South China Sea, where China has disputes with several other states over sovereignty.
China claims all of the strategic area, as does Taiwan, while four Southeast Asian countries declare ownership of parts of it, with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing’s forces of increasing aggression there, AFP reports.
“China sticks to the path of peaceful development and upholds a defence policy that is defensive in nature. China will always be an important force to maintain regional peace,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday.
The region is a conduit for more than one-third of the world’s seaborne trade and half its traffic in oil and gas, and major petroleum deposits are believed to lie below the seabed.