Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning takes up role in South China Sea
Liaoning docks at new Sanya base and prepares for training exercises in move of high strategic importance for nation's future navy operations
China's only aircraft carrier has anchored and started training for the first time at the nation's new dedicated base in the South China Sea.
The Defence Ministry confirmed for the first time on Thursday that the navy now has the ability to dock and service aircraft carriers at its Sanya base.
Analysts said it indicated China would locate its future carriers in the South China Sea, increasing tensions with nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam, which also have territorial claims in the region.
Captain Zhang shares his toughts about Liaoning
"The docking and training of Liaoning at the Sanya naval base has a significant impact on China's long-term carrier development plan," Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said.
"The Sanya trip shows Liaoning has its second home in the southern-most part of China."
The Liaoning docked for the first time at the base in Hainan province yesterday and would carry out training exercises there, Xinhua reported.
Defence Ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Yang Yujun said in Thursday's regular press conference that the carrier would be based in Sanya and training in the South China Sea for a "considerable" period.
Professor Ni Lexiong , a naval expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the South China Sea was of strategic and military importance. "Sanya is the entrance for much of the energy resources coming into the country by sea," he said.
Shipping and tankers coming from the Pacific, Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca pass through the area, he said.
China plans to build up to four medium-sized aircraft carriers by 2020, a military source said.
The Liaoning left its home port of Qingdao for the South China Sea on Tuesday. It is the first time the carrier has conducted a cross-sea training voyage since it was commissioned into the People's Liberation Army Navy in September last year. Previous drills were carried out nearer its home port.
It was escorted by two missile destroyers, the Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, the Yantai and Weifang.
Naval expert Li Jie said the vessels formed part of a battle formation and more ships would join the fleet in the future.
A spokesman for the Philippines foreign ministry, Raul Hernandez, said earlier this week the Liaoning's arrival in the region was a worrying development.
"Its deployment raises tension and violates the Declaration of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," he said.
Andrei Chang, who edits the Kanwa Asian Defence Monthly and has monitored the aircraft carrier project for 20 years, said the South China Sea was ideal for winter operations training.
The US Navy said earlier this month that two of its carriers, the USS Washington and the USS Nimitz, planned to deploy in the region with a Japanese carrier to help with disaster relief operations in the Philippines.
But Li Jie said the possible presence of several countries' warships in the region would not create conflict. "Liaoning is there for normal training," he said.