China's first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is shown at Dalian Port in Liaoning province. Photo: AFP

China’s future aircraft carriers may be nuclear-powered, says a big Chinese defense contractor.

State-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) reportedly said in a statement on Tuesday that it plans to “speed up the process of making technological breakthroughs in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, new-type nuclear submarines, quiet submarines, maritime unmanned intelligent confrontation systems, maritime three-dimensional offensive and defensive systems, and naval warfare comprehensive electronic information systems.”

The Chinese Communist Party tabloid Global Times says it’s the first time a state-owned Chinese defense contractor has openly identified building nuclear-powered aircraft carriers as one of its projects.

The newspaper quoted Chinese military experts as saying that Beijing may be making progress in developing nuke-powered aircraft carriers and that officials may eventually confirm the news.

“I think we can say that China has made major breakthroughs in the implementation of nuclear power on large vessels,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

“In a veiled reference in November, CSIC Chairman Hu Wenming said in a speech at the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company construction site in Liaoning Province for China’s first domestically made aircraft carrier that China is capable of designing and building any type of aircraft carrier,” the newspaper noted.

“Hu’s speech indicates that China can build aircraft carriers powered by diesel, gas or nuclear power,” Li said. “The country has mastered all the fundamental core technologies, including ski-jump and catapult-assisted launch technologies.

“In the future, China’s national interests will continue to expand overseas. Without a fleet of large nuclear-powered vessels, the Chinese navy cannot sail for a long time to faraway waters.”

Reuters reported that the announcement by CSIC appears to have been subsequently edited on the company’s website to remove the mention of nuclear-powered ships. But the story remains generally accessible on China’s internet.

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