General Luo Yuan, a senior researcher with China’s Academy of Military Sciences, claims that his country needs to develop three or more aircraft carriers to assert China’s influence and defend its interests.

In an interview with Beijing News, Luo specifically cited India and Japan as potential rivals who could challenge Chinese interests:

If we consider our neighbors, India will have three aircraft carriers by 2014 and Japan will have three carriers by 2014. So I think the number (for China) should not be less than three so we can defend our rights and our maritime interests effectively.

(Japan currently only uses helicopter carriers, but could purchase vertical take-off and landing aircraft)

The former Soveit aircraft carrier Varyag will soon enter service for China.

China has purchased an old soviet aircraft carrier from Ukraine and is in the process of refitting it for research, experiments and training.  It will use knowledge gained from that research to develop future aircraft carriers.  It is already building an indigenous carrier and destroyers with anti-aircraft capabilities to use as part of carrier battle groups.

In addition to power projection, the aircraft carriers would boost China’s ability to serve its interests through coordinating sea and air power in multinational deployments in areas like the coast of Somalia.

India has operated aircraft carriers since the 1950s.  It is in the process of refitting an old Soviet carrier (the INS Vikramaditya) and is building an indigenous aircraft Carrier, which is due to come into service in 2014.

China’s old Soviet Carrier is about 300 meters long, slightly larger than India’s old Soviet Carrier, and will likely have a larger complement of aircraft.

Xinhuanet has a useful graphic that gives brief descriptions of all the aircraft carriers currently in use around the world.  As it shows, China will be the third Asia country, after India and Thailand (!) with a proper aircraft carrier.