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Chinese military deception operatives put out word at the time that the vessel was being converted into a floating casino.

The warship has gone through extensive revamping, including the addition of a new propulsion system, modern electronics, and weapons systems.

The project set off a national craze in China for aircraft carriers as a symbol of national power. Choosing a name for the prized first carrier became a national obsession, and the task was not easy or transparent.

According to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) “Naval Vessels Naming Regulations,” cruisers shall be named after provinces, destroyers and frigates after cities, attack submarines after counties, supply ships after lakes, amphibious landing craft after mountains, mine sweepers after prefectures, infantry landing craft after rivers, and training vessels after people.

Naming new vessels also reflects high politics closely linked to China’s naval and maritime strategy. Naming the first carrier after a famous person would score bigger political points.

There was intense speculation that the Varyag would be renamed after Mao Zedong, China’s revered dictator and founder of the People's Republic of China, or Shi Lang, a 17th-century Chinese general who last “liberated” Taiwan for the motherland.

In recent months, due to heightened friction with Japan over the Senkaku island chain in the East China Sea, China’s more hawkish elements within the PLA suggested naming the vessel “Diaoyudao,” the Chinese name for Japan’s Senkaku Islands.

The vessel has undergone 10 sea trials but has yet to deploy the crucial element of its offensive weapons — combat aircraft. The absence of ship-borne jets indicates that Beijing is facing serious technical difficulties with the ability of PLA flight crews to master the challenge of landing and taking off using the deck of a moving carrier.

The highly anticipated launch date of July 1, the Communist Party’s founding date, and Aug. 1, PLA’s anniversary, have come and gone. The next expected launch date is Oct. 1, China’s National Day.

• Miles Yu’s column appears Thursday’s. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.