Tag Archives: Shandong

China Steams Ahead With New Aircraft Carriers

PLA-Navy warships including the aircraft carrier Liaoning and its latest submarines take part in a review in the South China Sea , April 12, 2018. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Mo Xiaoliang.

ONE OF THE naval world’s worst-kept secrets is that China is building its third and fourth aircraft carriers. The closest to official confirmation of that to date has come from Li Jie, a senior researcher at the Naval Military Studies Research Institute of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), speaking at a national defence education event in Beijing.

There was nothing that has been reported in Li’s remarks to alter what we already believe to be the case. He said that on the third carrier an electromagnetic catapult launch system would replace the ‘ski-jump’ of the PLA-Navy’s first two carriers, the Liaoning (seen above in 2018) and the Shandong, and that the power system of the fourth carrier would be ‘very likely to adopt significant changes’. That could mean nuclear powered or that the solution found to the power demands of electromagnetic catapult launching, which are typically beyond a conventionally powered carrier, might be extensible to the vessel’s whole propulsion system.

The third carrier is also likely to be larger than the Shandong — of the order of 80,000-85,000 tons versus 66,000-70,000 tons. That makes it a decent mid-sized carrier, but will also let it accommodate an additional 12 fighter jets, taking its complement to the 48 considered the minimum necessary for combat.

Catapult launching will allow its aircraft to carry heavier payloads, for a broader range of aircraft to be deployed, such as the new KJ-600 surveillance plane, and for more rapid flight operations. Along with the third carrier’s greater sea range, this will extend the reach and effectiveness of its carrier-based fighters.

However, the fifth-generation carrier-based fighters that China is developing (with some difficulty), the FC-31/J-31, will still not be a match for the F-35 stealth fighters the US Navy already has in the air. We note in passing that South Korea has F-35Bs (the short takeoff/vertical landing variant) and has allocated money in its 2021-25 defence budget to build a 30,000-ton carrier for them, similar to Japan’s destroyer helicopter carriers. For its part, Tokyo has F-35Bs on order for its mini-carriers.

Nonetheless, the rapid build-out of a blue-water fleet with carriers as the centrepiece means that China’s maritime security within the first island chain already looks increasingly assured. The PLA-Navy’s capacity to put adversaries at risk up to 1,500 kilometres off China’s coast will grow with its next carriers.

The third carrier is expected to be commissioned into service in 2023 and operational the following year. It has been under construction at the Jiangnan military naval yard in Shanghai since 2018.

Meanwhile, the Liaoning and the Shandong have carried out joint exercises for the first time, conducting live-fire and coordination drills in the Bohai and Yellow seas last week that appear to have continued into this.

There is nothing out of the ordinary about synchronised operations between two carriers, and it is just one more thing the PLA-N has to master as it learns how to operate carrier battle groups.

However, in the context of Taiwan, one implication of PLA-N dual-carrier operations is that in the event of a military invasion of the island, they could effectively blunt a possible US intervention on Taipei’s behalf. The US Navy’s dual-carrier exercises in the Western Pacific have shown the effectiveness of such coordination for sustaining high-intensity attack missions by carrier-based aircraft.


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PLA-Navy’s Blue-Water Aspirations Spring Forward

Senior Colonel Wu Qian, Director General of the Information Office of China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) and Spokesperson for the MND, shows a PLA-Navy commemorative envelop of the aircraft carrier, Shandong, at the end of the monthly press conference on December 26, 2019. Photo credit: MND/Wu Xingjian.

CHINA HAS GIVEN two displays of its emerging ‘blue-water‘ naval power in recent days.

Most recently it has conducted joint exercises with the Russian and Iranian navies in the Gulf of Oman, with the PLA-Navy’s most modern ‘carrier killer’, the guided-missile destroyer Xining, involved. Earlier, the PLA-N’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier of its own, the Shandong, sailed through the Taiwan Strait with the rest of its carrier group, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.

Neither exercise in wings-spreading will have gone unnoticed in Washington, which will see the beating of anti-US signalling in both. The former will be taken as an expression of unity between the United States’ great power rivals, Russia and China, and one of its regional power enemies, Iran, as well as of intent on Beijing’s part to protect the sea lanes on which its energy imports depend.  The later will be seen, as it was by the Taiwanese government, as unwarranted interference in the island’s forthcoming elections.

There was no ambiguity in the Chinese defence ministry’s press briefing on December 26th, however, in response to questions about US officials accusing China of increasing militarisation. In a sweeping answer that took in the US military budget, the proposed US ‘space force’ and US sanctions on China in connection with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, Director General of the ministry’s Information Office, lambasted what he called Washington’s ‘Cold War mindset and [its] hegemonic logic’, telling one questioner:

You also mentioned the so-called “Freedom of Navigation Operations”. I don’t think it’s a proper expression. Judging from what the US is doing in the South China Sea, it should be called “hegemony of navigation operations”. Such actions severely violate the sovereignty and security interests of littoral states, undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea, and endanger the safety of front-line service members. They are highly irresponsible and extremely dangerous.

But to end the year on a more unifying note, Wu concluded the press conference by saying, ‘Although we are still in the cold winter, the spring is not far away’ and offering a gift to the assembled hacks, PLA-Navy commemorative envelopes of the Shandong (seen in the photo above), a reminder, perhaps, for whom spring beckons most.

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China’s Aircraft Carriers: Now We Are Two

Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews a guard of honour on board the aircraft carrier Shandong at a naval port in Sanya, Hainan Province on December 17, 2019. Photo credit: Xinhua/Li Gang.

THE SECOND AND first wholly indigenous aircraft carrier was commissioned into service in the People’s Liberation Army- Navy (PLA-N) on December 17. The CV17 Shandong is a larger and more advanced clone of the CV16 Liaoning, a refitted Kuznetsov-class carrier bought part-built from Ukraine as the Varyag and which has been in service since 2016.

The commissioning of the Shandong was deemed of such significance in the development of China’s blue-water fleet that President Xi Jinping (seen onboard in the photo above inspecting a guard of honour) attended the ceremony at the Sanya-Yulin naval base on Hainan island.

China now joins a relatively small club of nations with two aircraft carriers that can carry aircraft as opposed to helicopters. It still lags the United States by a distance, however. The US Navy has 11 Nimitz and Ford-class nuclear-powered super-carriers.

It is two and a half year since the Shandong was launched and fitting out started. Sea trials commenced in May 2017. That relatively long, albeit planned period of testing suggests that technical issues with new systems, especially for control and command, weapons and radar, may have proved as challenging as expected.

Like the Liaoning, the new carrier is conventionally powered and has a ‘ski-jump’ takeoff. The design limits it to carrying helicopters and Shenyang J-15 fighter jets, although its larger size (66,000-70,000 tons vs 60,000-66,000 tons) and a 10% smaller ‘island’ lets it accommodate 36 aircraft against the Liaoning’s 24. That, though, is still a dozen aircraft short of what naval planners would consider the minimum necessary for combat.

Nonetheless, whereas the Liaoning has mainly been used for training, the Shandong will have a more routine military role. On its route south from the shipyard in Dalian where it was built to its new base in Sanya, the Shandong made a point of passing through the Taiwan Straits.

As well as providing patrol capability to reinforce China’s territorial claims in the South China sea, the new carrier will be able to be a regular and ready presence in those waters as a counterpoint to the freedom of navigation operations conducted by the navies of the United States and its allies.

It will let the PLA patrol between the ‘two island chains’ and the sea lanes critical to China’s trade, including the maritime belt of the Belt and Road initiative, although, like the Liaoning, it cannot be at sea for more than six days without refueling.

The Shandong will also undertake the flag-waving-cum-power-projection exercises of naval visits. There is speculation that although the carrier will based alongside the PLA-N’s South Sea Fleet in Sanya, it may be under the direct command of the Central Military Commission.

The third of an expected six aircraft carriers is under construction at the Jiangnan military naval yard in Shanghai (the first two were built in Dalian). The Class 003 carrier is likely to be conventionally powered, but larger (of the order of 80,000-85,000 tons) and using more powerful catapult launch systems in place of ski-jump takeoff.

It is expected to be in the water late next year and commissioned in 2023. Its successors are likely to be nuclear powered.

But as much as new, larger and more powerful carriers with greater sea range, the PLA-N needs to develop next-generation carrier-based fighter jets if its carrier battle groups are to be an effective fighting force. Even improved versions of the J-20 and FC-31 and a rumoured next-generation stealth fighter would not match the US Navy’s F-35C, the carrier version of the US Air Force’s Lightning stealth fighter, already in the air.



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Death Toll From China’s Rains Hits 70

The death toll from rain-triggered floods and landslides in central China has risen to 70 with 32 others missing, officials now say. The National Disaster Reduction Commission says more than 21 million people across eight provinces are now affected by the unusually late and heavy summer monsoon rains deluging Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Chongqing, Hubei, Shandong, Shanxi and Gansu. Direct economic damages are put at an estimated 26 billion yuan ($4 billion). Hubei, Shaanxi and Sichuan have borne the brunt of it.

In the worst incident, a landslide that buried a brick factory and partially destroyed as ceramics plant in Baqiao, a suburb of Shaanxi’s provincial capital, Xian, 27 people are now reported dead with a further five missing. Rescue teams continue to recover bodies. (Update: The final death toll has been confirmed at 32 with the recovery of the last missing body on Tuesday, four days after the landslide.)

Meanwhile, the highest flood crest so far this year on the rain-swollen Yangtze river reached the Three Gorges Dam on Wednesday morning, raising the water level to 164 meters, 20 meters above the alert level.

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China’s Deadly Lightening

Flashes of lightning shoot across the sky in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, on the night of Tuesday August 26, 2008.

As eastern China battened down in the face of Typhoon Muifa, officials have counted up the devastation caused by natural disasters in July: at least 204 dead and 43.6 billion yuan ($6.75 billion) in economic losses, with 7 million hectares of crops damaged. Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Sichuan and Shannxi were hardest hit by floods and landslides, while the drought in Guizhou and Hunan became more severe. July’s death toll followed the 279 who had died as a result of natural disasters in June, which took the total for the first half of this year to at least 449. During those six months, China was hit by seven 5.0-plus magnitude earthquakes while the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river experienced their heaviest rainfall in more than half a century.

A large portion of the deaths in July were caused by lightening strikes, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, without giving a number. In June, 15 people died after being hit by lightening, the ministry had said earlier. Such fatalities have been on the decline since 2007 when lightening killed 744 people, mostly farmers caught in thunderstorms and unable to find shelter, making it the third most deadly type of natural disaster after floods and mudslides that year. Even so, we estimate, some 300 people were killed by lightening last year. Early warning systems for severe storms have been improved, but cover only 85% of China’s rural areas. It is not expected that the percentage will reach 90% until 2015.

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China Cracks On With Nuclear Power Plant Construction

The pause for breath in China’s ambitious nuclear development program announced following the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plants appears to have been no more than a single intake of air. Barely a week after Beijing suspended approvals of all new nuclear power projects until a safety review is carried out, Bloomberg reports that work will start next month on a planned fourth-generation nuclear power plant at Rongcheng in Shandong.

Cui Shaozhang, deputy general manager at Huaneng Nuclear Power Development Co., a subsidiary of state-owned China Huaneng Group, China’s largest power group, said it would be the world’s first high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor.  The Rongcheng plant will use helium in its cooling system, and its reactor cores are said to be able to withstand temperatures exceeding 1,600℃ for several hundred hours without melting down. “Japan’s Fukushima plant was using old technology while Chinese reactors are more advanced,” Cai is quoted as saying–words, this Bystander hopes, that will never come back to haunt him.



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North China Plain Drought Leaves Millions Facing Water Shortages

Three months of drought across the North China Plain is leaving millions short of drinking water, Xinhua reports. There are concerns that the situation will worsen. Lack of rain has affected the wheat growing belt across six provinces from Shandong on the coast to Shanxi in the center of the country. Hebei has had only 2 mms of rain since November, 80% less than normal. Shandong is said to be facing its worst drought in a century. Fire trucks are delivering drinking water to residents.

A fifth of the farmland planted to winter wheat on the North China Plain, some 2 million hectares, has been affected by the drought. Direct economic losses are put at more than 1 billion yuan, with more to come as there is no relief to the drought in sight. Cloud seeding to induce rain and snow is likely.

The government, concerned about the effect of the prolonged drought on the spring harvest of the winter wheat crop, has already allocated 4 billion yuan ($607 billion) for farm irrigation and rural water conservation. Last week, following a State Council meeting on the current drought chaired by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, it allocated a further 2.2 billion yuan to drought relief. Wen visited drought affected areas in Henan last week.

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Some China Cities Slowly Getting Greener

Urbanization and industrialization is a filthy business. Industry pollutes. More of it just pollutes more. As nation after nation has gone through the industrialization phase of rapid development, each has had to trade-off the benefits of growth and their environmental costs. China is no exception, but it puts great store on being green. We are directed to a new article published by McKinsey & Co., the firm of management consultants, which asks the question, how green are China’s cities. Its answer? The country’s push for sustainable urban development shows mixed results. As a whole, China’s cities don’t meet global benchmarks for sustainability, but things are getting better and there are examples of successes for the laggards to follow.

The article is based on a paper first published last year by a joint team from the firm, Tsinghua University and New York’s Columbia University. Its Urban Sustainability Index uses data from 2004-2008 and covers 112 cities in China. It groups 18 indicators in to five categories, from the provision of basic needs such as clean water to political and policy commitment to sustainability.

The commonalities among the successful cities were “an unwavering focus on industrial restructuring, designing sensible transit systems and green space, pushing improvements through standards, monitoring and pricing, and exploring ways to make industries more resource efficient.” As might be expected, the successes also “displayed a clear, long-standing commitment to achieving their sustainable ‘vision”… “engineered a large degree of cooperation among relevant departments, for instance between those responsible for environmental protection and urban planning”…and “maintained commitment to their overall goals through several changes in leadership”.

The greenest cities do well across all these measures. Some examples: Tianjin has been consolidating heavy industry away from urban centers, a taking advantage of the moves to make fewer but larger new plants more energy efficient. Shenyang has now got almost all its heavy industry out of its center and is redeveloping the brownfields left behind as residential districts. Qingdao, arguably China’s greenest city, has pushed redevelopment projects to follow mass transit routes, increasing bus ridership at the expense of more heavily polluting private vehicles. Kunming is a pioneer in giving buses priority on roads. Nanning has developed  three greenbelts along the Yongjiang river as part of the creation of urban woodlands and green areas to absorb carbon dioxide emissions. Shandong province officials publicly identified the region’s 1,000 biggest polluters and set aggressive waste reduction targets for each of them.

We don’t underestimate the difficulty of implementing green policies, especially in a country where they require considerable coordination between often competing bureaucracies and in which the yardsticks of success against which local officials are measured (and promoted) have been ones of economic growth. Improving the quality of urban life is an objective of the new five-year plan and a high policy priority for the leadership. Gains are being made. The overwhelming majority of the 18 indicators in the Urban Sustainability Index show improvement during the study period. Yet the relatively limited amount of success stories so far among 112 cities also tells its own story.

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Drought Persists In South and East China

The hot dry weather in the south and east is causing drought to linger in both regions. Xinhua reports low reservoir levels in Guangdong where rainfall in the first ten months of this year has been 14% below normal. Water levels are also low in neighboring Jiangxi to the east after a month without rain and in southeastern Fujian the situation seems worse with reservoirs dry and more than 110,000 people left short of water. Meanwhile in Shandong, on the eastern edge of the arid North China Plain, 330,000 hectares of cropland are reported drought-stricken with no break to the dry spell in sight.

The bigger picture is that the slow desertification of the North China Plain is not being reversed quickly enough. Artificial rain-making is only ever an emergency response. The grand plan to divert the waters of three rivers to the region will take years to come to fruition, and may have unintended environmental consequences of its own, just switching part of the problem elsewhere. Demand for water has to be tackled as well as supply. That not only means switching to low-water irrigation methods on farms across China’s wheat-growing heartland but also stepping up conservation efforts in the big cities at the eastern end of the plain. It is the rapid growth of places like Beijing and Tianjin that have been a primary reason that the water table has fallen so far and so fast over the past 20 years. Producing water-conservation technology would also make useful work for idle hands in the export factories of the south.

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