SHANGHAI (Kyodo) -- After China confirmed for the first time last week that it is pursuing an aircraft carrier program, residents in Changxing Island just north of Shanghai said authorities have secretly recruited 10,000 workers in an apparent move to build China's first domestic aircraft carrier.
Compared with December last year, the number of workers entering and leaving a gate leading to dry dock No. 3 of the Jiangnan Shipyard on the island is apparently increasing, with guards watching people's movements and many taxis waiting for customers.
"At dry dock No. 3, (the shipyard) recruited 10,000 workers in January," a local resident said. "Workers are obliged to strictly keep secret (about their employment). They would not be allowed to use mobile phones and to make contact with their families during a one-year contract period."
Another resident told Kyodo News that a state leader visited and inspected dry dock No. 3 on May 25.
The People's Daily, the newspaper for the Communist Party of China, showed the leader was He Guoqiang, a member of the Standing Committee of the party's Political Bureau.
Looking from outside dry dock No. 3, there are no signs that workers have begun building a hull. In contrast, a large hull is being constructed in a neighboring dock.
Experts said it would require three to five years to build an aircraft carrier. "I hear workers have already begun manufacturing parts inside the dock and at another shipyard," said one resident who previously worked at the Jiangnan Shipyard.
"If you need to hire 10,000 workers (for construction), it must be a considerably large vessel," said Tomohiko Tada, a Japanese military affairs expert.
A Chinese source said China needs Ukrainian engineers' cooperation in building a domestic carrier.
There are high-class apartments, apparently for foreigners, and a soccer field near dry dock No. 3. While no one appears to live in the apartments yet, a large number of Ukrainian engineers will arrive on the island in September, the source said, citing unconfirmed information.
In the northeastern city of Dalian, China appears to have completed refitting the Varyag, a Ukrainian-made aircraft carrier.
The Oriental Morning Post, a Shanghai daily, reported Monday that the Varyag, delivered in 2002, is expected to set sail on a maiden experimental voyage in mid- or late August.