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China's first aircraft carrier to be completed soon: reports

TAIPEI--China is set to launch its first aircraft carrier on its maiden voyage soon, according to Beijing media reports.

Reconstruction of the carrier, which was bought from Ukraine in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is nearing completion, a report on a website media affiliated with the People's Daily said Wednesday.

“The work on Varyag (the Soviet Union name of the carrier) has entered its last stage, with its hull being painted in the standard Chinese naval color — light gray-blue,” the report said.

The Varyag was purchased at an auction for about US$100 million by the Chunluck Company, a Hong Kong-based enterprise funded by China. At the time, the company said that the vessel, which was about 70 percent completed, would be converted into a multiple-purpose leisure facility.

The ship was towed to a dock at the port of Dalian in 2002, where it has been under reconstruction ever since. The work on the vessel included the installation of power systems, electronically scanned array radars, and surface-to-air missiles.

China's official Xinhua News Agency posted a picture of the carrier Wednesday on its website with the caption, “Giant ship to make maiden voyage, Chinese dream comes true after 70 years.”

The carrier will reportedly be renamed Shi Lang, after a Ming Dynasty admiral who surrendered to the Qing Court and helped it conquer Taiwan in 1681.

The carrier is 302 meters (990 feet) long and 70.5 meters (231 feet) wide, with a loaded displacement of 67,000 tons and a speed of 29-31 knots. It can host up to 50 planes of various types, mostly Su-33 and MiG-29 jet fighters, anti-submarine helicopters and early warning helicopters.

International military analysts are of the opinion that Varyag serves as platform for the Chinese navy to acquire carrier-building expertise and technology to pave the way for China's construction of more carriers from start to finish.

It is very likely that the carrier will be assigned to China's South China Sea fleet to help secure Beijng's crude oil shipping line and enhance its military deployment in the region amid sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan, according the experts.

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