Shanghai lockdown stalls launch of China's most advanced aircraft carrier

Following a lockdown, shipyards in Shanghai are now running out of workers as Chinese authorities have ordered all Shanghai state-owned enterprises to send employees to fight COVID-19.

 COVID-19 outbreak in Shanghai (photo credit: REUTERS)
COVID-19 outbreak in Shanghai
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The People’s Liberation Army Navy of China had been planning to launch the new carrier, currently named "Type 003", around the navy’s 73rd anniversary, on April 23. The major lockdown of Shanghai due to COVID-19, however, has stalled China's plans.

The Shanghai outbreak is, so far, China’s most serious since the beginning of the pandemic; a staggering 200,000 cases have been reported since the outbreak began in March, though with China's reputation for accurate COVID-19 numbers, the actual number could be much higher, according to The New York Times.

“Many Shanghai people blame the local government officials for mishandling the crisis, the coordination problems, lack of contingency planning, these issues. Which might be true,” Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations said, according to the report. 

“But it is interesting how, within a month, Shanghai degenerated from a poster child of the pandemic control to a pariah of the COVID response.”

Shanghai, the world’s biggest container port, is dealing with a shipping backlog as the COVID-19 outbreak takes its toll, China is attempting to deal with the situation through a combination of lockdowns and mass testing, an approach known as “dynamic zero-COVID”.

Following the lockdown, shipyards in Shanghai are now running out of workers as Chinese authorities have ordered all Shanghai state-owned enterprises to send employees to fight COVID-19 in the quarantined region.

Construction of the Type 003 carrier has been underway at the Jiangnan Shipyard on Shanghai’s Changxing Island since 2017 and was expected to be ready for launch in early 2022.

A larger plan was made to commission 6 new aircraft carriers by 2035, with at least 4 of them being nuclear powered, unlike the Type 003 the would be "the last of its kind" according to military commentator Song Zhongping.

“The Type 003 — a conventionally powered carrier with an EMALS-like system — may become the only one of that kind of aircraft carrier, because China will next build multiple nuclear-powered aircraft battle platforms,” Zhongping added.

The two predecessors, "Liaoning" and "Shandong," are both carriers conventionally powered, the same as is the Type 003,  while the country’s fourth planned carrier, on which construction started in 2021, is likely to be the first in a line of 4 to be powered by nuclear reactors.

“China’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with [EMALS-like systems] are expected to join the navy by 2035, bringing the total number of carriers to at least six — although only four will work at the front line”, Wang Yunfei, a naval expert and retired PLA destroyer naval officer, said. “The country needs to keep developing until it is at the same level as the United States”, Wang added.

China’s pressure to give competition to the US on the naval front can be seen as the country’s response after the perceived humiliation of the Third Taiwan Crisis, the results of which implied that China is unable to defend its 11,000-mile eastern coastline nor can it project adequate naval power in the East Asia region.

Considerable advancements in its fleet of aircraft carriers was deemed of utmost importance by China, and was set as a goal to remedy its insufficient naval capabilities with the development of 6 new carriers by 2035.