Credible reports indicate that China is already building at least one conventional carrier in the 80,000-ton range and there are rumors China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier will be nuclear powered.
China is following up the domestically produced Type 001 (copy of the small Liaoning carrier) —with the Type 002. The Type 002 is expected to use conventional propulsion, along with a series of technological advances such as an EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult system.
It makes sense that the PLAN would want a pair of ships; operating the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) Type 002 carriers will require a significantly different skill set than the first two, and it will be easier to produce that skill set with two carriers than with one.
The Type 003, which largely remains on the drawing board, is expected to displace 110,000 tons. The Type 003 carriers will be the first ships since the 1950s built anywhere in the world to rival the largest, most powerful U.S. supercarriers.
China will have a new generation of fighters and drones (likely based on the J-31 stealth fighter) available by the time the first Type 003 is ready.
China does not have a lot of naval bases around the world, so having a nuclear-powered ship would address refueling issues.