PLA carrier sets off for drills and a port call in Hong Kong
Former Soviet vessel is expected to stop in city to help mark anniversary of handover to Beijing
The aircraft carrier Liaoning has departed Qingdao in Shandong province for a series of training exercises, the PLA Navy announced on Sunday.
The carrier is expected to stop in Hong Kong early next month, following a visit by President Xi Jinping to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of the city to Beijing.
The carrier was travelling with a flotilla that includes the destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan and the frigate Yantai, and was carrying a squadron of J-15 fighters and some helicopters, Xinhua said.
The report said the drills were “routine” and would strengthen coordination among the vessels and improve the skills of crew members and pilots in different marine regions.
The Liaoning was the PLA’s first carrier, and was originally laid down in 1985 for the Soviet navy. It was later purchased by China and commissioned into the navy in 2012. It was combat-ready four years later.
Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jie said the flotilla was expected to focus its training on coordination, and was also expected to show the flag during a port call.
“Senior Chinese leaders are also visiting the city and events will be organised to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover,” he said. “It is highly possible that Liaoning will make a visit to Hong Kong.”
But Li said port calls to Hong Kong by the carrier would not be too frequent.
The PLA has been signalling that its Hong Kong garrison is not just a symbol of sovereignty but a combat-ready force that can show mainland military might.
“[The garrison] has changed from being a symbolic presence to a show of force, from image building to combat capability development,” fleet commander Yuan Yubai and political commissar Wei Liang of the Southern Theatre Command wrote earlier this month.
Xi would be in Hong Kong from Thursday to Saturday to mark the anniversary, swear in a new administration and “inspect” the city, Xinhua reported.
Xi has a packed itinerary that includes overseeing the swearing-in of the new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and her cabinet on July 1.