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A top Chinese military official has confirmed that Beijing is building an aircraft carrier, marking the first acknowledgement of the ship's existence from China's secretive armed forces.|
In an exclusive interview published Tuesday, the Hong Kong Commercial Daily quoted Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, as saying the 300-meter refurbished Soviet carrier "is being built, but it has not been completed."
He declined to elaborate although there has been wide speculation that the vessel was nearly finished after the ship, previously called the Varyag, was reportedly purchased in 1998.
It is currently based in the northeast port city of Dalian, Agence France-Presse reported.
The ship, which an expert on China's military has said would be used for training and as a model for a future indigenously built ship, was originally built for the Soviet navy.
Construction was interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Hong Kong paper quoted anonymous sources as saying the carrier will be launched by the end of June at the earliest.
Qi Jianguo, assistant to the chief of the People's Liberation Army, or PLA, general staff, told the newspaper that the carrier would not enter other nations' territories, in accordance with Beijing's defensive military strategy.
"All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers - they are symbols of a great nation," he was quoted as saying.
The 300-meter Varyag, designed to displace 67,500 tonnes fully loaded, was conceived in the 1980s to be a jewel in the Soviet navy's crown to challenge U.S. naval power, Reuters said on its website.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, newly independent Ukraine was left with the Varyag, 80 percent complete but with no engine or rudder.
Repeated bids to sell the Varyag failed until it was sold for $20 million in 1998 to a Chinese company, Agencia Turistica e Diversoes Chong Lot Limitada, to be turned into a floating casino.
In 2000, Turkey rejected a Chinese request for the Varyag to pass through the crowded Bosphorous strait, which separates Asia and Europe, into the open sea.
Turkey argued that the vessel posed too great a danger to its 12 million inhabitants and the villas and palaces that line the banks of the Bosphorus.
After the carrier was forced to wait at the mouth of the Bosphorus for 15 months, Turkey agreed to allow it to use the waterway in 2001.
China agreed to encourage Chinese tourists to visit Turkey and import more Turkish goods.
China is involved in a number of simmering marine territorial disputes.
China has claimed mineral rights around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and argued that foreign navies cannot sail through the area without Beijing's permission.
8 June 2011.