China’s aircraft carrier expected to make four-day visit to Hong Kong for handover celebrations
Details of where the Liaoning will berth to allow most people to see it have yet to be finalised
A flotilla led by the PLA’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning is expected to make a four-day call in Hong Kong after undergoing almost two weeks of training in other waters, sources close to the military told the South China Morning Post.
Analysts said the flotilla was likely to pass through the Taiwan Strait, though it was not certain whether that would be on the journey out to its exercise waters or on its return.
A source close to the PLA told the Post that the flotilla was scheduled to visit Hong Kong on July 7, and likely to leave on July 11.
“It will be a full four-day visit to Hong Kong, but it’s not clear whether the flotilla will go home or continue training after leaving,” the source said.
Xinhua said earlier that the Liaoning left its home base in Qingdao on Sunday for a routine training mission in the company of two destroyers and a frigate.
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said one or two nuclear-powered attack submarines were likely to join the flotilla when it passed the navy’s submarine base in Hainan in the coming days, making it a complete carrier fighting group.
There has also been speculation that China’s latest stealth fighter, the J-20, will be displayed together with the Liaoning flotilla at next month’s port call to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover.
However, Li said the J20 was not a carrier-based aircraft so would not be seen on the Liaoning, though there was a chance the aircraft could fly to Hong Kong for the air show, as it did in Zhuhai last year.
“The J-20 may make aerobatic flights with the carrier-based J-15 fighter jets,” Li said.
The J-20 made its public debut at the Airshow China in Zhuhai on November 1, after taking off from an airfield in nearby Foshan.
Another Beijing-based source said there were still several issues to be tackled ahead of the Liaoning’s visit to Hong Kong, including where to berth it so it can easily be seen by the public.
Large aircraft carriers need to berth in deepwater ports. Visiting US aircraft carriers used to dock in waters southeast of Tsing Yi when making port calls to Hong Kong.
Miliary analysts said the flotilla may conduct exercises in the South China Sea, and would be likely to pass through the Taiwan Strait during its voyage. Such a move would be a show of Beijing’s military might to those who support independence for Taiwan.
“Taiwan’s military is keeping a close eye on the carrier group’s movements in the Taiwan Strait, because the Liaoning sailed through the area when it wrapped up a training mission in January,” said Andrew Yang Nien-dzu, a former Taiwanese defence minister.