June 13, 2023
In recent weeks, rampant misinformation has spread online about China’s third aircraft carrier, the Fujian. In late May, netizens began posting images online that purportedly showed large cracks in the Fujian’s deck. On Twitter, one of these posts racked up nearly one million views, and numerous follow-on tweets have been viewed tens of thousands of times. Even more digital ink was spilled over these claims as news reports began to spread the tweets.
These reports are false. There are no large cracks in the vessel’s deck. Commercial satellite imagery captured on May 15 shows no sign of cracks or similar markings on the deck. There are also no signs that major work has been done to those portions of the deck, which indicates no repairs were made.
The streaks that overeager analysts mistook for cracks are, instead, liquid pooling and running in rivulets across the deck. Older imagery from September 8, 2022, and April 23, 2023, analyzed by ChinaPower shows that the liquid appears to originate on the port side of the vessel and run toward the starboard side. This makes sense given that the vessel is tied up to the pier on the starboard side, which will sometimes cause a slight tilt with tidal swings. The fact that, in past imagery, the streaks appear in different places at different times adds further evidence that these are not cracks.
The widespread sharing of this kind of misinformation is dangerous. Many users have spread posts and reports about the “cracks” to ridicule the quality of China’s military and its weaponry as a whole. Buying into these claims risks seriously underestimating China’s growing military power.
To be sure, the People’s Liberation Army Navy will have to tackle problems with the Fujian. Virtually all large, complex military platforms come with challenges. Understanding those real flaws and weaknesses will be important for analysts of China’s military. Misinformation that muddies the waters with fabrication and hype is not helpful.