China aircraft carrier to lead Pacific drills for first time
BEIJINGChina’s navy sent its sole aircraft carrier into the Pacific for the first time, state media reported - a move likely to ratchet up regional tensions.
The duration of the drill and the route of the flotilla were not known. But the Soviet-made carrier is based in the northeastern city of Dalian, suggesting the fleet would enter the Pacific through a disputed island chain between Taiwan and Japan.
“A Chinese navy formation, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, headed towards the West Pacific on Dec. 24 for scheduled blue-water training,” Xinhua said Dec. 24, citing China’s navy spokesperson Liang Yang, according to AFP.
The Japanese Defense Ministry confirmed eight Chinese vessels, including the carrier and three destroyers, had been spotted by one of its ships in the central part of the East China Sea in the afternoon of Dec. 24.
Taiwanese Defense Ministry said on Dec. 25 that it had been monitoring the drills closely as the Liaoning went through the Miyako Strait, a body of water between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa, heading into the Pacific.
It said it was monitoring whether the aircraft carrier would continue into the Bashi Channel, which lies between Taiwan and the Philippines, on its return.
In recent days the Liaoning has been involved in exercises in the Yellow Sea, with J-15 fighter jets taking off from it and conducting air refueling and combat drills, Xinhua said.
Earlier in the month the Liaoning led large-scale exercises in the Bohai Sea that included live ammunition for the first time.
State broadcaster CCTV in mid-December showed images of fighter jets taking off from the aircraft carrier, with targets exploding into flames and missiles releasing long trails of smoke.
Tokyo controls the string of uninhabited islands known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China that are also claimed by Beijing and Taipei.
The Chinese navy drills are seen as a show of strength by Beijing at a time of rising tensions with Taiwan and the United States following a protocol-breaking telephone conversation between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
China views Taiwan as a renegade province and fiercely opposes diplomatic recognition of it as a country.