BEIJING (AFP) - A company has won a contract to supply cabling for a second Chinese aircraft carrier, comments by the local authorities suggested, in the latest sign that Beijing is boosting its maritime power, although news of the development was swiftly deleted online.
The authorities in Changzhou said on a verified social media account that "in 2015, our city will focus on promoting some major programmes", including Jiangsu Shangshang Cable Group "winning the contract for China's second aircraft carrier".
The Changzhou Evening News carried a similar report at the weekend, although both the newspaper article and the post on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, were deleted shortly after publication. Neither report gave details of the ship.
China's first aircraft carrier was purchased from Ukraine through an intermediary and was commissioned in 2012, while the country's defence spending has been increasing sharply in recent years.
The deputy chief of staff of China's navy, Mr Song Xue, said in April 2013 that the country "will have more than one aircraft carrier", but left the timing open.
In a subsequent leak, Mr Wang Min - the Communist Party secretary of Liaoning province, where China's first aircraft carrier is based - said the country was already working on a second ship to be completed around 2020.
The Propaganda authorities ordered that all reports of Mr Wang's remarks be deleted, according to the United States-based China Digital Times, which monitors censorship in China.
Nevertheless, China's nationalist commentators quickly responded to the latest reports, calling on Monday for more aircraft carriers to be built in the face of "Western-backed provocations".
"China is now the world's second-largest economy, but its only flattop is a training ship rebuilt from an ex-Soviet aircraft carrier," said an op-ed by Sun Xiaobo in the Global Times, which is affiliated with the official Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily.
"This is no match to the country's economic strength."
Though China's defence spending is growing by double digits and it has acquired its first aircraft carrier, the country remains far behind the United States in military capacity and reach.
The Defence Ministry said last week that China's military training this year will focus on "improving fighting capacity" to win "local wars", with Beijing embroiled in several territorial disputes.
China has been involved in occasionally tense confrontations with Japan and the Philippines over maritime disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea respectively, amid fears that the disputes could result in armed clashes.