China has launched its third aircraft carrier, the first designed and built entirely in the country, marking a significant military advance for the Asian superpower.
The announcement comes as tensions between China and the US have ramped up in recent weeks over Beijing’s sabre-rattling towards self-ruled Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province to be seized by force if necessary.
Launched in a Shanghai shipyard to great fanfare, the Fujian is more technically advanced than the other Chinese carriers.
It is the “first catapult aircraft carrier wholly designed and built by China”, said the state broadcaster CCTV.
It will be years before the Fujian reaches operational capacity, and the defence ministry has not announced a date for entry into service.
“Sailing and mooring tests will be carried out as planned after the ship is launched,” CCTV reported.
China has two other aircraft carriers in service. The Liaoning was commissioned in 2012, and the Shandong entered service in 2019.
Unlike the Fujian, they use a ski-jump-style platform to launch aircraft and do not have a catapult launcher system.
The US has the most aircraft carriers in service, at 11 ships, followed by China and Britain, with two each, according to Janes defence magazine.
Chinese warships have repeatedly sailed through the strait that separates the island from the mainland, and used fighter jets to repel freedom of navigation patrols from the US and its allies.
The Chinese defence minister, Wei Fenghe, warned his US counterpart last week that Beijing would “not hesitate to start a war, no matter the cost” if Taiwan declared independence.
President Xi Jinping has overseen an overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army since coming to power in 2012, and has pledged to build a “fully modern” force rivalling the US military by 2027.
The growth of China’s armed forces comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions as Washington looks to shore up military alliances in the Asia Pacific region.
Last year, the US secured a historic deal with Britain to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia and has since made multiple arms sales to Taiwan, provoking angry responses from Beijing.
Meanwhile, China brokered an unprecedented security agreement with Solomon Islands this year that blindsided Washington and its allies, stoking fears of another Chinese military base in the Pacific.