HONG KONG (Reuters) - China could build its first aircraft carrier by 2010 if current research and development proceeds smoothly, a Hong Kong newspaper quoted a Chinese general as saying on Wednesday.
The Beijing-funded Wen Wei Po newspaper identified the source as a “zhong jiang”, meaning lieutenant general or vice admiral, depending on the service, and a member of the military delegation at a parliament session in Beijing. It did not give further details.
Experts say China’s military has been researching carriers for years as a way to protect its interests offshore, but there has been no formal admission of a program to build one.
Earlier this week, China announced a 17.8 percent rise in its official defense budget for 2007, to 350.92 billion yuan ($45.32 billion), continuing a trend of double-digit growth. Foreign experts say the real amount may be three or more times that.
China has been modernizing its military with an emphasis on naval and air power to strengthen its hand with regard to Taiwan and too also better protect its economic interests such as shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
Beijing says its military is only for defense, but the rapid upgrade of its capabilities in recent years has worried some in the region.
Ties between China and Taiwan have become increasingly strained recently as Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian raised Beijing’s ire with pro-independence comments.
On Monday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said Beijing’s increasing defense spending threatened regional peace and upset the military balance in favor of China.
Last month, a Japanese legislator warned that Japan could become a Chinese province “if something goes wrong in Taiwan in the next 15 years”.
The military buildup has been a source of friction with the United States, which is obliged under the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan defend itself.
China’s President Hu Jintao in December urged the building of a powerful Chinese navy that was prepared “at any time” for military struggle.