China plans second, larger aircraft carrier: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China is planning a second and larger aircraft carrier, a top naval officer said, according to state media on Wednesday, after its first carrier was commissioned last year as part of a military buildup.

The confirmation of a second vessel comes amid escalating maritime territorial disputes between China and its neighbours, and the United States' increased focus on Asia which has riled China.

"China will have more than one aircraft carrier," deputy chief of staff of China's navy Song Xue said at a ceremony on Tuesday to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the founding of China's navy, the Xinhua news agency reported.

"We hope the next aircraft carrier can be bigger, because then it would be able to carry more aircraft and be more powerful," he told foreign military attaches in Beijing.

China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, went into service in September in a symbolic milestone for the country's increasingly muscular military.

However, the vessel still requires a carrier group including destroyers, frigates and submarines while fighter jets need more training to be operational, the deputy chief of staff said.

In a report earlier this month China's defence ministry took aim at the United States and its expanding military alliances with Asian allies, saying that it was "frequently making the situation there tenser".

Tensions with Japan have spiraled in recent months in a row over Tokyo-administered islands in the East China Sea. Both sides have scrambled fighter jets in the area.

China is also at odds with South-east Asian countries, including the Philippines, over other disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Washington's foreign policy "pivot" towards Asia in recent years is seen as emboldening China's rivals who are involved in the territorial spats.

China has also generated concern with double-digit rises in its annual defence budget - set at 10.7 per cent for 2013 - with experts saying their actual military spending is substantially higher than the publicised totals.

Xinhua said the navy provided no details on whether the vessel would be constructed or purchased, but dismissed as inaccurate foreign media reports that China is building new aircraft carriers in Shanghai.

Beijing purchased its first carrier from Ukraine before refurbishing it.

The vessel had been commissioned by the former Soviet Union, but work halted with its collapse.

The Liaoning - named after a north-eastern Chinese province - is not expected to be fully operational for several years, although late last year China conducted the first landing of a fighter jet on the vessel.