Xi Jinping sends signal to neighbours with high-profile tour of Liaoning aircraft carrier
President greets sailors and commends flight crews at Dalian base
President Xi Jinping has paid his first visit to the country's sole aircraft carrier - a trip that analysts said was designed to send a strong message to regional rivals.
Xi's inspection tour of the Liaoning in Dalian followed a series of naval advancements by China's neighbours, including Japan's launch of its largest military vessel since the second world war, the helicopter-carrier Izumo.
The Soviet-built Liaoning, which was handed over to the PLA Navy last September after 10 years of retrofitting by a state-owned company, is the showpiece of China's effort to build a "blue-water" navy - one capable of sustained operations across oceans.
Xi reviewed an honour guard and observed a training session on Wednesday, Xinhua reported yesterday. Xi, who also heads the decision-making Central Military Commission, went below deck and talked to sailors.
Before boarding, Xi visited a People's Liberation Army naval training base to watch aircraft that will use the carrier practice landing exercises. Xi praised the pilots' performance and skills under complex weather conditions. The Liaoning's design allows it to carry about 30 fixed-wing aircraft, and the navy is still practising deck landings.
China's display of naval might comes amid a renewed US focus on the region, although India, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam have also been strengthening their naval capabilities. Tensions have run high with Japan over the disputed Diaoyus, or Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea.
Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel, said Xi's inspection tour was aimed at sending a signal to Tokyo. "It means China is developing its strategic weapon," Yue said. "China needs to further improve this weapon and should not be complacent with its recent [naval] advancement."
Ministry of National Defence spokesman Yang Yujun said on Thursday that although the Liaoning was China's first aircraft carrier, "there will surely be more in future".
China would fully consider the development of aircraft carriers in accordance with the needs of national defence and military build-up, Yang said at a news briefing.
In February, the PLA's main ship contractor, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, said the Ministry of Science and Technology had approved funding for two research projects, including core technologies and safety studies for nuclear-powered ships.
Since taking power in November, Xi has paid regular visits to military facilities and urged PLA leaders to speed up their modernisation programme. He has placed particular focus on building a blue-water fleet, which he has described as necessary for securing China's revival.
On Thursday, Xi met senior officers in Shenyang , and called on them to strengthen troop abilities and do their part to improve the country's military prowess.
During a visit to the Shenyang Machine Tool Group yesterday, Xi highlighted the importance of developing native technology. "Technology is like food - you cannot rely on others," Xi said, according to Xinhua. The president is slated to officiate at the quadrennial National Games in Shenyang today.
The Liaoning officially entered service on September 25 last year. In February, the carrier docked at its new permanent base in the northern port of Qingdao , home to the navy's North Sea Fleet.