The former Soviet carrier Varyag, which China has purchased from the Ukraine, and is allegedly only for training purposes. Photo via the U.S. Navy.
BEIJING, July 29 (UPI) -- China needs aircraft carriers as it is surrounded by foreign warships, its military experts said after Beijing confirmed refitting a Soviet-era carrier.
The experts said China must have its own carriers to safeguard national security and development, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The experts said China is the only one among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that does not have an active-service aircraft carrier. Other Security Council members are the United States, Russia, Britain and France.
It is not clear how many aircraft carriers China plans to have eventually.
China having aircraft carriers, however, is expected to further raise concerns of neighboring countries. Japan's ties with China are already strained over the Senkaku Islands, while Vietnam and the Philippines have seen their disputes with China in the South China Sea escalate.
"The United States operates 11 carrier battle groups and has deployed six of them to the Pacific region," Real Adm. Yin Zhuo, director of the Expert Consultation Committee of China's People's Liberation Army, told Xinhua.
He said China's neighbors, including India and Russia, also have carriers, while Japan and South Korea have acquired large-tonnage warships which could be used as aircraft carriers using vertical landing jets.
"Other countries should not be surprised by China's refitting of a carrier for training purposes," said Li Jie, a researcher with the PLA Navy's Academic Research Institute.
"China's pursuit of an aircraft carrier will not pose a threat to other countries, and the Western nations should accept and be used to the reality that we are developing the carrier," Yin said.
The Xinhua report said the carrier being refitted currently is an empty one purchased from Ukraine, which disarmed it and removed its engines before selling it to China reportedly for $20 million in 1998. The ship was originally built by the former Soviet Union.