Photo rules relaxed on Liaoning as senior officials among first guests invited onto Chinese aircraft carrier during its Hong Kong visit
Guests were able to take photos of two J-15 fighter jets inside hangar but only chief executive Carrie Lam and former leaders Leung Chun-ying and Tung Chee-hwa had opportunity to go on flight deck
As dusk fell over Hong Kong on Friday, the first guests were taken aboard the Liaoning, China’s first operational aircraft carrier that is berthed off southern Tsing Yi.
Among those invited were more than 400 guests from military, political and business circles. They were hosted by the Liaoning’s commander, Rear Admiral Ding Yi.
Almost all senior Hong Kong government officials led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, former leaders Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying and lawmakers were among the guests.
Some visitors were disappointed as only Lam, Tung and Leung had the opportunity to go on the flight deck, while other visitors had to stay inside the hangar for a buffet dinner.
However, there was one surprise as photo taking was finally allowed inside the carrier. Guests were able to take photos of two J-15 fighter jets inside the hanger.
The 60,900-tonne warship made its entry into Hong Kong waters early on Friday.
Dwarfing its 20 escorting Hong Kong police launches, the Liaoning sailed through the East Lamma Channel. Its size meant it could not sail into Victoria Harbour.
The surrounding area was made a no-fly zone from 7am on Friday to 10.30am next Tuesday during the fleet’s debut visit to the city. No aircraft, drones, model aircraft, kites, and balloons are allowed; Government Flying Service planes are the only exception.
The carrier battle group comprises the Liaoning, the guided-missile destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan, the guided-missile frigate Yantai and several J-15 carrier-borne jets and helicopters. This is the Liaoning’s maiden visit to Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule.
The PLA Navy said the battle group left its home port in Qingdao, Shandong province for routine training.
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The Yantai arrived at the PLA’s naval base on Stonecutters Island at about 9am. The frigate was greeted by a fireboat – which welcomed the ship by spraying water – lion dancers and students in white caps, white shirts and crimson skirts or trousers waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags.
Guests, as well as soldiers in land, sea and air uniforms, looked on at the naval base pier as the frigate approached.
The crowd grew even more excited as the Yinchuan approached the base at about 9.45am, with lion dancers performing amid the sound of gongs and drums, pupils and soldiers waving and guests rushing out of their seats to take photos and selfies. Crew members lined the deck and waved back.
Carrie Lam and Beijing liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming, along with other officials, arrived at the pier at about 9.50am to greet the crew members as they stepped down the ramp.
Four students at the pier handed crew leaders flowers after they landed.
The welcoming ceremony started at about 10am, with the Hong Kong Police Band playing the national anthem.
Addressing the guests, Lam thanked the central government for sending the aircraft carrier and its accompanying ships to Hong Kong.
“I believe this can let citizens experience the country’s military development, especially the development of the naval force,” Lam said. “This will greatly enhance Hong Kong citizens’ understanding and recognition of the country.”
Tung Chee-hwa was one of the officiating guests for the ceremony, but Leung Chun-ying, who became a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference like Tung, was not at the ceremony.
The Liaoning’s commander, Ding Yi, said officers would visit Hong Kong communities and participate in charity and social service activities with non-governmental organisations.
The Liaoning’s visit showed that Hong Kong was very important to the central government, Ding said. “We believe [the visit] can further encourage Hong Kong compatriots’ passion to love the country and Hong Kong.”
Some 1,600 guests attended the ceremony.
After the ceremony, Lam, Zhang and other officials boarded the Yinchuan to inspect its equipment.
Public tours of the Liaoning are to be available on Saturday and Sunday. A total of 2,000 tickets were distributed. Only Hong Kong permanent identity card holders can join. Another 1,600 tickets went to designated organisations.
Due to security concerns, children under 11, pregnant women and people with impaired mobility are not allowed on board.
Ticket holders can board the Liaoning – named after a northeastern province in China – and view its fighter aircraft, helicopters and other carrier-based weapons in designated areas during a visit limited to one hour on either day.
No cameras are allowed on board. A spokesman for the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison said he had yet to receive any confirmation of whether visitors could take pictures in specified areas on the carrier.
Arrangements will be made to ferry visitors to the Liaoning from Central waterfront, after security checks are completed.
Macau-based military affairs commentator Antony Wong Dong offered some insights for those planning to visit.
“The J-15 jets, sometimes called Flying Sharks, are reportedly on par with the American Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. Visitors should also look at the advanced radars on the deck,” he said.
The three smaller warships – the Jinan, Yinchuan and Yantai – are open to visitors at Stonecutters on Saturday and Sunday. Those holding tickets – distributed earlier – for the base’s three open days from Saturday to Monday can tour all three vessels.
PLA Navy spokesman Liang Yang said earlier in Beijing that it was hoped the visit could help enhance Hongkongers’ understanding of achievements made in national defence and army building.
The Liaoning is a refitted Soviet-era vessel and was commissioned by the PLA Navy in 2012. Its battle group carried out a live-fire exercise in the South China Sea and western Pacific Ocean in December and January.
The Liaoning measures more than 300 metres long and about 75 metres wide, and is powered by a conventional propulsion system.