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ARKIB : 11/11/1998

Macau Company Denies Buying Carrier For China

HONG KONG Nov 10 - The Macau buyer of an unfinished Ukrainian aircraft carrier denied on Tuesday that it had bought the giant ship on behalf of the Chinese military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The 67,000 tonne carrier Varyag would arrive at Macau in two months for its planned conversion into a hotel and entertainment venue, officials of the Macau leisure company said on Tuesday.

''As for rumours that I bought this aircraft carrier for the PLA, there's no such thing...'' said Cheng Zhen Shu, chairman of Agencia Turistica E Diversoes Chong Lot Limitada.

''We're a commercial entity,'' he told a news conference.

Since the company won a tender to buy the carrier in March, experts have speculated it was acting for the PLA.

China, with its ambitions to develop a blue-water fleet capable of projecting naval power into Asian waters, might plan to examine the ship to learn the secrets of aircraft carrier design, analysts have said.

While China has no aircraft carriers at all, the Ukrainian ship is almost as big as the U.S. Navy's huge supercarriers.

Cheng, who said he was with the PLA sports department and a prominent basketball player in the 1970s, denied such suspicions.

''They are groundless... Even we have not had enough time to examine it ourselves. We have no plans to allow them (the PLA) to examine the aircraft carrier for their own purpose,'' he said.

Construction of Varyag began in Ukraine in 1985 but stopped in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Russia could no longer pay the newly independent Ukraine to finish the ship, which was then 70 percent complete.

The 306 metre ship was to have been the Soviet Union's second carrier - and a third was also commenced - but only one has entered service with the Russian fleet.

Varyag was finally stripped of all military equipment and sold to Cheng's company for US$20 million.

Cheng said the carrier's tow from Ukraine to Macau would begin in ''the next few days''.

He showed drawings of how it would look in 2001 after a US$200 million facelift. To be called the Ocean Entertainment Centre, it would become a multi-functional entertainment centre, including a huge discotheque, fancy restaurants, night-clubs, a health and sauna club, a military museum and a 600-room hotel.

''This would be a sensational idea for tourists,'' company director Zhang Yong said. ''We should be able to attract at least 10 percent of tourists who go to Macau.''

Officials said the company was talking to the Macau government for approval to berth the carrier and for a licence to operate as an entertainment centre.

But a Macau government spokesman told Reuters that no application had been received from any company to berth any aircraft carrier in Macau waters. - Reuters

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