China is becoming a military superpower in the Pacific.

In the South Pacific, there is a threat of war due to Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China wants to annex what it considers a renegade province, using force of arms if necessary.

In his report to the People’s Congress, Chinese Premier Li Qiang reiterated Beijing’s determination to “resolutely push forward the reunification of China.” According to Beijing, the potential threat lies in the fact that the Republic of China, as Taiwan is officially called, receives security guarantees from the US.

Five US aircraft carriers are currently patrolling in the Pacific, according to US media. However, experts believe that Beijing is not only going for the Taiwan Strait but also for dominance of the entire South Pacific.

To that end, Beijing would considerably expand its still weak navy. The southernmost point of the South China Sea is about 2,000 kilometers from the mainland. Beijing wants to expand its radius of action further with the use of its aircraft carriers.

Two aircraft carriers are in service, and another two are under construction.

Two aircraft carriers operate in the Chinese navy. The  Liaoning  (hull number 16), purchased by China from Ukraine in 1998 for use as a hotel, was delivered in 2012 to the Chinese Navy after being converted into an aircraft carrier. The other, the Shandong  (hull number 17) is a domestically produced copy of the Liaoning and has been sailing in the South China Sea since 2019.

The  Fujian  (hull number 18) is currently being tested at a Shanghai shipyard. Like her two predecessors, she has conventional propulsion. The aircraft carrier is expected to enter service in 2025. China would be building a fourth aircraft carrier. “I am not aware of any technical difficulties with this fourth aircraft carrier,” Admiral Yuan Huazhi indirectly confirmed the rumors to a Hong Kong journalist on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress.

Asked whether the aircraft carrier would already be equipped with nuclear propulsion, the Chinese Navy’s highest-ranking policymaker responded evasively: “We will inform the public in due time.” However, the ship’s alleged identification number, 19, remains unmentioned in the official press.

Two more nuclear aircraft carriers?

Before the start of the People’s Congress, media in Hong Kong and Taiwan reported on the same day that two more nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with hull numbers 20 and 21 had been built simultaneously at two shipyards. Each has two liquid thorium salt reactors that generate energy through nuclear fission, they said.

«We are building aircraft carriers, not to compare ourselves with the United States, and certainly not to make war on the United States. “We want to use them to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Admiral Yuan Huazhi, giving the official version of the matter.

Unlike some Western democracies, uncomfortable questions are not asked in the plenary session of the National People’s Congress. There, in the Great Hall of the People, China’s firm ambition to become a regional military superpower is evident.

Increase in Chinese military spending

In 2024, China’s absolute military spending will increase by 7.2% compared to 2023, reaching the equivalent of 215.5 billion euros. And if the economy achieved 5% growth in the current year, the defense budget would represent 1.2% of GDP. According to the Stockholm International Peace Studies Institute (SIPRI), this figure places China in second place in the world in defense spending after the United States.

With nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, “a modern navy no longer needs island chains as refueling supply bases to control the vast Pacific,” says Charles Martin-Shields of the German Development Institute. One of the reasons for the rise in military tensions, according to experts, is that William Lai Ching-te, a critic of China, will assume the presidency of Taipei in May.

“In principle, neither China nor the United States are interested in a military conflict,” says Hanna Gers of the German Council on Foreign Relations. «Personally, I think economic blockades are more likely. But I also know that all possible scenarios are discussed here.

Chinese aircraft carriers continue to sail in their own waters. But Admiral Yuan is already hinting that the Chinese navy could soon head toward distant targets. China could also test its military capabilities during the long foreseeable crisis in the Middle East.

Dang Yuan