China aircraft carrier confirmed by general

The head of China's General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has confirmed that China's first aircraft carrier is under construction.

Gen Chen Bingde refused to say when the carrier - a remodelled Soviet-era vessel, the Varyag - would be ready.

A member of his staff said the carrier would pose no threat to other nations.

The 300m (990ft) carrier, which is being built in the north-east port of Dalian, has been one of China's worst-kept secrets, analysts say.

Gen Chen made his comments to the Chinese-language Hong Kong Commercial Daily newspaper.
Symbol of power

The PLA - the largest army in the world - is hugely secretive about its defence programme.

The carrier was constructed in the 1980s for the Soviet navy but was never completed. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the rusting hull of the Varyag sat in dockyards in Ukraine. A Chinese company with links to the PLA bought the Varyag claiming it wanted to turn it into a floating casino in Macau.

The carrier is thought to be nearly finished, and is expected to begin sea trials later this year.

But the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says that does not mean it will then be ready to undertake operational duties.

Learning how to operate it - and fly planes off it - will take a few more years to master, our correspondent says.

Lt Gen Qi Jianguo, assistant chief of the general staff, told the Hong Kong Commercial Daily that even after the aircraft carrier was deployed, it would "definitely not sail to other countries' territorial waters".

"All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers - they are symbols of a great nation," he was quoted as saying.

Lt Gen Qi said China had always followed a "defensive" principle for its military strategy.

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