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International relations

China confirms its third aircraft carrier in the works

Revelation made as Xi-Trump summit nears

China's third aircraft carrier may launch fighters by catapult instead of from a 'ski-jump' ramp, like the one featured on its first domestically built carrier.
China's first domestically developed aircraft carrier is seen at a port in Dalian after completing its first sea trials, in Liaoning Province, in May.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- Chinese state media made clear for the first time that the country is building its third aircraft carrier, just days before a summit meeting with the U.S.

Work is proceeding on schedule in berths at the shipyard where the vessel is being built, the Xinhua News Agency wrote on its official page on the WeChat social network.

Information about the carrier's capabilities was not disclosed, but Chinese media have hinted that it may feature catapults to launch fighter jets more efficiently -- an improvement over the country's existing carriers.

Whether the vessel will use nuclear or conventional power is unclear. China Shipbuilding Industry, the state-run company charged with building the warship, outlined plans to develop nuclear-powered carriers in a February rundown of its future goals, and it is possible the one being built will use nuclear technology.

China's two current aircraft carriers -- the Liaoning, which it bought from the Ukraine and refurbished, and its first domestically-built carrier, which is undergoing sea trials -- both use conventional power. Instead of catapults, they have "ski-jump" ramps for launching aircraft.

State media and the Ministry of National Defense had avoided officially confirming that a third vessel was being built, though construction was suspected to be underway in Shanghai. Xinhua's announcement of the project came in an article commemorating China's first successful landing of a fighter on the Liaoning on Nov. 23, 2012.

Three is seen as the minimum number of aircraft carriers needed to have one constantly operational, as the vessels periodically require long-running maintenance. Xinhua's report indicates China is mindful of that milestone. The Chinese military is also hurrying to train pilots for its J-15 carrier-based jet fighters and build warships to escort the carrier.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to meet with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina beginning Friday. The announcement of the the third aircraft carrier is seen as Beijing's attempt to put pressure on Washington ahead of summit talks.

At a meeting with Trump, Xi is expected to seek a temporary cease-fire from Washington in the bilateral trade war, underlining China's efforts to expand imports of American-made goods and further liberalize its market.

Xi is showing an inclination recently to seek diplomatic harmony with neighboring countries in a bid to soften anti-China sentiment.

Yet Beijing is not expected to compromise on matters like the South China Sea and Taiwan, which it views as core interests. China has recently been working to develop and deploy new types of weapons, and the announcement of the new aircraft carrier figures into its open display of building a military force to rival the U.S.

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