The captain of China’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier first made his international mark more than a decade ago. Lai Yijun stepped in to take command of the guided-missile frigate Lianyungang during a multilateral live-fire naval exercise in Pakistan in 2007 when the vessel’s top officer fell sick. It was the first exercise of its kind for the People’s Liberation Army Navy and involved warships from nine countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Italy. Under Lai’s command, the Chinese frigate was one of the best performers in a competition to hit a surface target. He was later promoted to commander of a frigate division in the East Sea Fleet. Now Lai, who graduated from the PLA’s Dalian Naval Academy with a major in missiles, is at the helm of the Shandong, the first aircraft carrier built in China. Trained at the PLA University of Foreign Languages and named the country’s commander of the year in 2010, Lai is in his forties, is fluent in English and was once considered to be a candidate for a Chinese embassy as military attaché, according to the Global Times . English is an important requirement as the PLA Navy strives to be considered an international force. Zhang Zheng, the former captain of the Liaoning, a converted Soviet-era carrier, was also in his forties when he took charge of the vessel in 2012 and had honed his language skills studying at Britain’s Joint Services Command and Staff College. Alongside Lai is Pang Jianhong, the political commissar of the more than 4,000 troops on board. Political commissar is a unique position within the PLA and goes back to the founding of the communist red army in 1927. At all levels of the PLA, the commissar is a dual leader of the unit along with its military commander, and is in charge of Communist Party development and political ideology work in the military as well as building morale. Pang is a seasoned political worker with experience as commissar of the guided-missile destroyer Xian and political director of a support ship flotilla. According to the Global Times report, he was picked for the Shandong because of his ability to work with captains on previous assignments and expertise in talent development. The Shandong was commissioned by President Xi Jinping in Sanya, a port in the southern island province of Hainan, on Tuesday.