PLA officials and media tour US aircraft carrier
Move seen as gesture attempting to smooth military ties between nations
The USS George Washington yesterday hosted senior PLA officers and members of the press aboard the aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, in a gesture aimed at maintaining smooth military ties with China.
The media tour was held as the nuclear-powered carrier sailed the high seas.
The ship is due to arrive in Hong Kong today on a five-day port call.
Four senior officers from the PLA's Hong Kong garrison, including deputy commander
Chen Weizhan, were invited along with local and overseas journalists to tour the ship for the day, taking a 90-minute flight from Hong Kong to the carrier.
A PLA frigate has been accompanying the carrier as it entered waters near the China coast.
When asked about China's own aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, the head of the Washington carrier strike group, said: "You can definitely see the Chinese navy is modernising and expanding."
Pointing to the frigate, Montgomery said it was a professional arrangement, adding: "It would be a natural conclusion they would be operating in the vicinity of us."
Tensions in the South China Sea have been rising this year as China locks horns with Vietnam and the Philippines over sovereignty disputes.
There have also been recent calls in the US media for the Obama administration to explicitly support Japan's claim over the disputed East China Sea islands, called the Diaoyus by Chinese and the Senkakus by Japanese.
The carrier crew demonstrated training and daily operations on the deck, with F-18 super hornet fighter jets taking off and landing on the flight deck of 4.5 acres.
The carrier strike group last month held military exercises with South Korea and Japan off the Korean peninsula. Its appearance in the South China Sea also came after a recent encounter between PLA navy and Japanese self-defence forces in the West Pacific waters.
Montgomery said the US Pacific Fleets would increase military engagements with allies and partners in the Asia Pacific region, which is the Pentagon's new strategy to shift 60 per cent of its naval assets to the Pacific region by 2020 as part of an Asian "pivot" announced by Washington last year.
The US Navy has an "increased commitment to the region" and has shown itself to be a "reliable partner and credible state to our allies", he said.
Montgomery said the US had been keen on building a strategic partnership with China.
With about 5,500 sailors on board, the carrier heads the US Navy's largest carrier strike group and is the only one with a home port outside the US.