A disgraced senior executive of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC) is said to have fed US spies highly classified information, including the design and specifications of the Liaoning aircraft carrier that underwent years of refurbishment at CSIC’s Dalian Shipyard.

CSIC general manager Sun Bo, the second-highest-ranking executive at the shipbuilding juggernaut, has run afoul of graft and crime busters at the National Supervision Commission and the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and is under investigation for “gross violation of laws and party discipline,” according to a one-line notice posted last week on the two commissions’ joint website that is devoid of any further details.

Sun’s last public appearance was on June 11 during an inspection trip to a CSIC logistics subsidiary.

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CSIC general manager Sun Bo (third from left) was last seen when visiting a subsidiary of the shipbuilding giant on June 11. Photo: CSIC

Sina Military and Hong Kong-based Apple Daily noted that Sun could have divulged some drawings and other information of the Soviet-built Liaoning, as well as its retrofitting work during the 2000s, to US Central Intelligence Agency operatives.

The allegation has also raised questions on whether the confidentiality undertaking regarding technical details of China’s first domestically built carrier, which is modeled heavily on the Liaoning‘s design including a similar jump-rack deck, could have also been compromised.

China's first domestically built aircraft carrier has completed five days of sea trials. China already has one carrier, but Beijing believes the rising superpower must have more to safeguard not only its sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests but also the region’s, a view not shared by the author.Photo: AFP/Wang Xizeng
A file photo shows China’s first domestically built carrier cruising back to its berth at the Dalian Shipyard following its maiden voyage in May. The homemade carrier is wrapping up its sea trials with delivery expected by the end of the year. Photo: AFP

Sun, 57, holds a doctorate in vessel and marine structures design from the Dalian University of Technology and spent most of his career heading the Dalian Shipyard when the Liaoning was being rebuilt there.

Some suspect that Sun’s case could be a money-for-intelligence one, if the leakage accusation can be substantiated, though Beijing is unlikely to reveal the results of a probe of such a sensitive case involving a member of the top management at a key defense conglomerate that, other than the two carriers, is also contracted to build advanced destroyers and frigates for the People’s Liberation Army.

But Beijing-based observer Li Jie told Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao that Sun could be hard put to intervene with the retrofitting and construction of the two carriers given the rigorous supervision and background check in place, and neither did his case have anything to do with the rumored quality issues of the two vessels.

Meanwhile, CSIC on Wednesday reported on its WeChat account that its president Hu Wenming had reiterated the “paramount urgency to stay loyal to the party and fend off infiltration as well as graft” at an internal meeting.

Yet one photo of the meeting, held at CSIC’s China Ship and Vessel Research and Design Institute in the central city of Wuhan, has piqued more interest.

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A new, colossal flattop that dwarfs the two existing carriers is seen in a photo released but later deleted by the state-owned shipbuilder CSIC. Photo: CSIC WeChat account

A computer-generated rendering depicting a massive cavalcade of three carriers and other warships was revealed in the photo, and other than the Liaoning and its yet-to-be-christened sister ship currently finalizing its sea trials, a new, bigger carrier is sailing front and center in the picture.

Analysts believe it could be China’s second home-made carrier, and the first to sport a distinctive “flattop” design. Previous rumors about the new seagoing airbase include a conventional power train and possibly three electromagnetic catapults on its flight deck.

Beijing-based military commentator Song Zhongping told Global Times that the future carrier could have a displacement of 80,000 tons.

The photo was deleted later on Wednesday amid heated speculation about future Chinese carriers.

CSIC also disclosed in February its plan to build China’s first nuclear-powered carrier – likely at its Bohai Shipyard in Huludao in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where China’s first nuclear submarine was built – in a roadmap of weaponry upgrades for the PLA Navy by 2025, though it’s unknown if Sun’s fall from grace will have any impact on the ambitious plan.

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Carrier rendezvous at Dalian Shipyard