UPDATE: Over at the Weekly Standard’s weblog, Michael Goldfarb (who was kind enough to link this post) discusses the possible impact of China’s flattop program [Worldwide Standard.com]:

I’d still contend that, as Brookes put it, Chinese carriers would be “nuthin’ but big, fat gray targets,” but that doesn’t change the fact that an aircraft carrier would boost Beijing’s ability to project “soft power.” And deploying a Nimitz-sized nuclear carrier would, like the ASAT test, show that China is to be considered a military superpower.

Read the rest of the post on your own.

ORIGINAL POST: Citing a source familiar with Chinese military issues, the Hankyoreh Shinmun is reporting that China is secretly pushing the construction of a nuclear-powered “supercarrier” of 93,000 tons.

The source, presenting internal Chinese Communist Party documents, said China plans to build a 48,000-ton conventional-powered aircraft carrier (so-called “Project 085”) and a 93,000-ton monster carrier (“Project 089”). The materials presented said China’s Central Military Commission had recently approved both projects and spelled out both vessels’ displacement.

It was well known that China was planning to build a conventional carrier, but Beijing has yet to make public its plans to build a nuclear carrier.

According to the documents, the nuclear carrier—to be completed by 2020—is to be tasked to China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s Shanghai Jiangnan Shipyard [Global Security.org], which is capable of building oil tankers of 300,000 tons. The documents apparently mention that the planned carrier should be the size of the Ul’yanovsk [FAS], the planned Soviet nuclear carrier that was never completed.

If China completes the carrier, it would give the Chinese Navy a carrier approaching the size of the U.S. Nimitz class [Global Security.org], which is roughly 97,000 tons in displacement.

The documents say the conventionally powered Project 085 is a transitional project to the nuclear-powered Project 089. The mid-sized conventional carrier, to be completed by 2010, would displace 48,000 tons standard and 64,000 tons fully loaded. It will be able to hold 30-40 Jian-10 fighters [Global Security.org], which China began deploying last December. China is currently developing a naval version of the Jian-10; prior to development, China plans to decorate the ship with a compliment of 10-20 Russian-made Su-33s [Global Security.org].

The conventional carrier will be a modified version of the Soviet-built Varyag [Varyag World.com], which the Chinese have been playing with at China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s Dalian Shipyard [Global Security.org] since the Ukrainians sold it to them. Dalian Shipyard will be designing and building the conventional carrier. After Project 085 has been completed, the hull of the Varyag will be used for carrier landing exercises.

China’s carrier plans are in-line with comments made by the head of China’s National Defense Science, Technology, and Industry Commission, Zhang Yunchuan, who told reporters on March 16 that if things went smoothly, China could complete its indigenously built carrier by 2010.

A general-admiral rank figure in Korea’s Ministry of Defense, however, told the Hankyoreh Shinmun that while Chinese plans to build a nuclear carrier are as of yet unknown, one could expect that China would ultimately want to possess a nuclear-powered carrier.