31 Dec 15. China confirms it is building a second aircraft carrier. China’s defence ministry confirmed on Thursday that it is building a second aircraft carrier as Beijing seeks to assert its claims over a number of contested islands and reefs in the South and East China seas.
Speaking at a briefing, ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China had started to design and construct a 50,000-tonne vessel capable of hosting the People’s Liberation Army’s J-15 fighter.
China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, was originally a Soviet vessel whose hull was towed to China. The Liaoning, which operates out of Qingdao, was formally commissioned in 2012.
Military analysts and Chinese media have published photos of a carrier under construction at the north-east port city of Dalian but the defence ministry had previously declined to confirm whether it was building a second carrier.
Chinese military analysts say a stronger navy is needed to push back against “containment” by the US, which is “pivoting” more of its military forces to the East Asia region, and to counter Washington’s regional allies including South Korea, Japan and the Philippines.
Japan, the Philippines and self-ruled Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty, form a so-called “first island chain” to China’s east and south. “The purpose of the US pivot towards Asia, based on the first island chain, is to contain China,” said Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University.
In September, the PLA debuted a new “carrier killer” ballistic missile capable of threatening US naval vessels in the event of a conflict.
China is currently embroiled in territorial disputes with Japan over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands and with the Philippines and Vietnam over the Spratly Islands.
A recent spate of “island building” by the PLA Navy in the South China Sea has transformed a number reefs and islets into bases equipped with docking facilities and landing strips, raising tensions across the region.
The US Navy has responded by sending at least one vessel to within the 12-mile nautical limit claimed by China around one such possession, in what the Pentagon called a “freedom of navigation” exercise.
The South China Sea is one of the most important waterways in the world, through which ships carry oil to China from the Middle East and Chinese exports to Europe.
As part of its naval build-up, on December 28 China commissioned three new vessels for its South China Sea fleet.
31 Dec 15. US prepares new Iran sanctions over missile tests. The Obama administration is preparing new sanctions on companies and individuals involved in Iran’s ballistic missile programme just weeks before the nuclear deal with Iran is due to be implemented. The Treasury department is planning new designations in response to two ballistic missile tests that Iran has conducted since the nuclear agreement was signed in July, a US official said. If introduced, the sanctions would present a delicate diplomatic test for the nuclear agreement with Iran, which involves substantial reduction in sanctions on Tehran in return for significant restrictions on its nuclear programme. Iran has warned that new US sanctions would be a violation of the nuclear deal.
US officials provided no details on the potential new sanctions. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the Treasury department would target around a dozen people and companies in Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong that it believes have been involved in Iran’s ballistic missile programme.
The sanctions would freeze any US assets of the individuals and companies, bar Americans from doing business with them and exclude them from the US financial system.
According to US officials, Iran conducted separate missile tests in October and November, while a United Nations panel of experts has already confirmed the October test. Such missile launches are a violation of a UN Security Council resolution which will be withdrawn