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Chinese Figter Aircraft Carrier Varyag May Be Nearly Ready

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.