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Will China’s fourth aircraft carrier steer towards troubled waters in Asia and challenge the US Navy?

There had been no delays or bottlenecks in the construction of the new carrier, Yuan said. His comments were the first confirmation of China’s efforts to build its fourth aircraft carrier, commonly known as the Type 004.

Illustrations of the vessel have been circulating online, with the artwork purportedly coming from the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, where it is believed to be under construction.

Abdul Rahman Yaacob, a research fellow in the Southeast Asia programme at Australia’s Lowy Institute, said if the fourth aircraft carrier is fuelled by nuclear power, it could operate “power-hungry” weapon systems and equipment.

“A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier can operate longer at sea without replenishment, thus the Chinese Navy can project and exert a stronger presence,” he added.

While the US Navy is experienced in naval battles, the Chinese navy has not been tested as yet, and it remains to be seen if its aircraft carrier group can perform in wartime conditions as effectively as the Americans, Rahman said.

Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, said that the regional balance of power is expected to be recalibrated as China boosts its aircraft-carrier capabilities and catches up with the US.

“But operational context matters”, Davis said, noting that the Chinese carriers’ primary mission is to support the PLA’s joint landing operations targeting Taiwan.

“So while the carriers will allow the PLA Navy to operate with more confidence in other regional contingencies, I think its key role is still Taiwan-focused,” Davis said.

The unnamed fourth carrier is likely to be nuclear-powered and comparable in size and capability to the US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, Davis said.

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