China plans to operate five aircraft carriers in the near future, including two nuclear-powered ones that would be launched around 2025 to meet the evolving strategic shifts , according to Chinese military experts.
A late entrant into aircraft carrier led naval battleship formations, China launched its first aircraft carrier 'Liaoning' in 2012, which was a refit of the former Soviet vessel bought from Ukraine.
India has been operating aircraft carriers since 1961.
Though Liaoning was operationalised and led trial expeditions into the Taiwan Straits, it was widely regarded as an experimental vessel used for mastering technologies, especially to operate the newly built J-15 planes from its deck.
Subsequently, China launched its domestically-built second aircraft carrier and commissioned it for sea trials last year. The yet to be named ship is expected to be put into service by 2020.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy will have five aircraft carriers in the near future, country's official media reported, adding that China's third aircraft carrier is currently being built in Shanghai.
China needs at least five aircraft carriers to fulfill the strategic shifts, state-run Global Times quoted Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, as saying.
Wang Yunfei, a naval expert and retired PLA Navy officer, said that China needs six aircraft carriers to ensure enough carriers are on active duty while the others are undergoing maintenance.
China will develop two nuclear-powered carriers, Wang told the daily.
Japan recently announced plans to convert 27,000-ton Izumo-class helicopter destroyers into aircraft carriers, sparking concerns in China.
Reacting to the reports, Song said that Japan's move means a fundamental change in the vessels rather than a simple boost to their combat capabilities.
"The China threat theory is merely an excuse for Japan to do what it wants," Song said.
Officials say the rapid acquisition of aircraft carriers by China is of concerns to India too, as the Indian Navy, which is operating aircraft carriers since 1961, is currently operating only INS Vikaramaditya. The home-made INS Vikrant expected to launch sea trials in 2020.
China is in a hurry to acquire the aircraft carriers as it rapidly expanded the navy coupled with the acquisition of naval bases aboard to back up its growing influence abroad, especially in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (SCS).
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan in the South China Sea, and with Japan in the East China Sea. Both the areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources. They are also vital to global trade.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the area.
The US has been conducting regular patrols in the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation in the area where Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region.
It has already operationalised its base at Djibouti in the Indian Ocean and acquired Sri Lanka's Hambantota port on a debt swap. China is developing the Pakistan's deep water Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea.
In November, China clinched a deal to build a multi-billion dollar port at the strategically important Kyaukpyu in Myanmar, located in the Bay of Bengal.