China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was bought from Ukraine. Photo: Xinhua
China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was bought from Ukraine. Photo: Xinhua

There have been unconfirmed reports that China could be planning to sell its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to Pakistan, before the vessel built in the Soviet era reaches the end of its service life.

If sold, the Chinese carrier could be a big boost to Pakistan’s navy which competes with arch-rival India, which has an operational carrier, the Vikramaditya, also bought from Russia.

Indian and Pakistani newspapers including the EurAsian Times quoted sources as saying that Beijing had decided to sell the Liaoning to Pakistan “for a yet-undetermined price in order to upgrade the Pakistan Navy’s capabilities.”

The rumor appeared when China’s first homemade carrier, known simply as Type 001A, a lookalike of the Liaoning with a ski-jump bow, is poised to enter into service this year and a second vessel featuring a flattop look was also taking shape at a dock in Shanghai.

China will soon have a spare vessel for sale when more indigenous carriers start sailing its waters. It is estimated that the nation will have five carriers, including two nuclear-powered ones, by the 2030s.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Gwadar and Karachi have already been described by Chinese navy strategists as a “logistics base” and “naval base” for the People’s Liberation Army. US defense website also noted earlier this month that the Liaoning, commissioned in September 2012, would serve for about 18 years. If sold to Pakistan in the 2020s, the vessel would still have about 10 years of service life left.

But well known Chinese military observer Song Zhongping told Chinese papers that Pakistan’s main focus would be to maintain its own strategic nuclear deterrence rather than to promote offshore capabilities as the nation had a relatively short coastline.

The Liaoning has just undergone a nine-month midlife refit and some reports suggest Beijing could be mulling over a plan to install its homemade electromagnetic catapults on its flight decks to help train pilots.

Aging PLA carrier may get high-tech upgrade

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  3. For the West, this shift also has implications for the competitiveness of Western companies as Chinese firms gain market share in Russia. The technological advances Chinese companies may gain by working in Russia could make Chinese manufacturing, weaponry, telecommunications, hydrocarbon exploration, and drilling capacities more innovative and competitive on a global scale. Yet there are clear negative implications for Russia from this shift. Beijing clearly now holds the economic and political power in the bilateral relationship. It is increasingly exercising this power to its advantage, but it frequently defers to Russia symbolically and offers assurances to manage Russian concerns over the imbalance in relations, particularly as Moscow seeks to shore up its position in the Asia Pacific. Beijing, for example, recognizes the need to accommodate Russian interests and sensitivities to ensure that its vision for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is solidifying China s economic dominance in Central Asia, will bring benefits to Russia. It offers still undefined pledges to coordinate Russia s Eurasian Economic Union with the BRI. This deference to Moscow has led Beijing to cede most hard security issues in Eurasia to Moscow, although growing Chinese concerns about instability in Central Asia and Afghanistan have increased Beijing s interest in becoming a security provider to the region a move that could stoke friction with Moscow over time. Thus far, Russia and China have successfully managed their differences in Central Asia, the Russian Far East, and the Arctic, but potentially divergent interests remain over the long term.

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