China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier heads to Western Pacific for first blue water drill
China’s first aircraft carrier has set off for the Western Pacific for an open-sea training exercise, the Defence Ministry said.
State media said it is the first time that the Liaoning, which was commissioned by the Chinese navy in 2012, has headed to “distant sea waters.”
The Western Pacific region stretches from China to New Zealand and encompasses countries in the Pacific, Oceania and parts of Asia.
The statement said a navy formation including the Liaoning set off Saturday for training “in distant sea waters,” without giving details, as part of an annual training plan.
The Japanese Defence Ministry said it spotted the Liaoning as part of a fleet of eight Chinese warships that included destroyers and frigates, in the central part of the East China Sea for the first time. It said there was no incursion into Japanese waters.
The Western Pacific exercise comes amid new tension over self-ruled Taiwan, following US President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with the island’s president that upset Beijing.
China’s air force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas, that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine.
In recent days military the first aircraft carrier group has carried out a series of fighter launch, recovery and air combat exercises in the Yellow Sea ahead of the scheduled voyage farther afield.
China’s Defence Ministry announced late Friday that the Liaoning carrier group conducted the drills in the Yellow Sea in recent days, adding that the group “as a next step will conduct scheduled cross-sea training and tests.”
The Liaoning, commissioned by China’s navy in 2012, first sailed to the South China Sea in 2013, when it docked at a navy base near the Chinese holiday resort of Sanya. The vessel at the time was not outfitted with a full aircraft complement.
The Liaoning carried out its first live-fire exercise last week, with the military releasing video footage that showed Chinese J-15 fighters launching missiles and hitting targets.
State broadcaster China Central Television on Saturday showed footage of the Liaoning launching a large contingent of J-15 fighters. The navy’s top commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, was shown onboard watching the exercises.
Beijing has said the carrier, built from an incomplete hull from Ukraine, would be used mostly for training and research as it prepares to deploy its first home-grown carrier, but it is widely viewed by analysts as a strategic piece in China’s increasingly assertive claims in the South China Sea.
Kyodo, Associated Press, Reuters