The Chinese state news agency has posted photographs of an aircraft carrier under reconstruction that appears to show the warship near completion. Captions with the photos said that the work would end soon and that the carrier was expected to sail later this year.
The photos of the carrier, the Varyag, which China bought from Ukraine in 1998, appeared Wednesday on the Web site of Xinhua, the state news agency.
It was the first time that Xinhua had given visual evidence of the carrier project, which is widely seen as a linchpin of China’s military modernization and naval ambitions. The country’s efforts have raised fears among foreign governments that China will use a more robust military for expansionist purposes or to press for regional dominance.
Xinhua cited a military analysis magazine based in Canada, Kanwa Asian Defense Review, as saying that the ship would be ready to sail this year. The fact that Xinhua used that information in a photo caption appeared to be an official endorsement of that view.
Xinhua’s headline with the photos said: “Huge warship on the verge of setting out, fulfilling China’s 70-year aircraft carrier dreams.” One caption said: “A few days ago, domestic online military forums consecutively published photographs of the Varyag aircraft carrier being reconstructed at China’s Dalian shipyard. From the pictures, we can see that this project is entering its final stage.” The caption noted that construction on the ship’s bridge was almost done, with the exception of a radar system.
The online sites it referred to are discussion forums used by Chinese military enthusiasts.
Andrei Chang, the founder of the Canadian magazine and a Hong Kong resident, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the photographs published by Xinhua showed the carrier at a much more advanced stage of reconstruction than he had expected.
He said that his magazine had received photos of the carrier taken in February, but that those photographs did not show any paint on the ship’s upper structure, while the ones published by Xinhua did.
“The speed is very, very amazing,” Mr. Chang said. “It’s surprised me.”
The day before Xinhua posted the photos, another Chinese news organization, Global Times, a populist newspaper that is not considered an official Communist Party mouthpiece, ran the same photos. The images appeared first on military forums starting on Monday.
On Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman was asked about the carrier photos at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing. “Please refer to the relevant authorities for details,” said the spokesman, Hong Lei. “I would like to emphasize that China follows a peaceful path of development.”
In January, photographs emerged on Chinese military forums of the J-20 stealth fighter, which has been under construction in Sichuan Province.
The appearance of the photos came just days before Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited China. Military officials tested the fighter while Mr. Gates was in Beijing, which led to a puzzling and awkward diplomatic moment between Mr. Gates and President Hu Jintao.