China car­rier car­ries drills on open seas

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

China’s mil­i­tary says its first air­craft car­rier group has car­ried out a se­ries of fighter launch, re­cov­ery and air com­bat exercises in the Yel­low Sea ahead of a sched­uled voy­age far­ther afield. The De­fense 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 min­istry did not spec­ify its des­ti­na­tion, but its “cross-sea” word­ing has prompted spec­u­la­tion in the Chi­nese me­dia that the war­ships could soon sail to the con­tested South China Sea.

The state-run Global Times news­pa­per quoted a well-known mil­i­tary an­a­lyst yes­ter­day as say­ing that the South China Sea would be an “ideal” next lo­ca­tion be­cause joint exercises could in­volve with troops on reefs con­trolled by China. The grow­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the car­rier group and its movements have been closely watched since the Liaon­ing was de­clared com­bat­ready last month.

Ten­sions have mounted in the South China Sea, where the US and China ac­cuse each other of en­gag­ing in a dan­ger­ous mil­i­tary buildup. China claims nearly all of the sea and is pit­ted against smaller neigh­bors in mul­ti­ple dis­putes over is­lands, coral reefs and la­goons. The US-based Asia Mar­itime Trans­parency Ini­tia­tive think tank said this month that satel­lite im­agery showed China build­ing large anti-air­craft guns on ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands in the con­tested waters, where China has also laid airstrips, built com­mu­ni­ca­tions fa­cil­i­ties and de­ployed sus­pected mis­siles.

China has char­ac­ter­ized its moves as de­fen­sive in na­ture and ac­cused US war­ships of mak­ing provoca­tive passes through the re­gion. The Liaon­ing, com­mis­sioned by the Chi­nese 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 J15 fighters launch­ing mis­siles and hit­ting tar­gets. State broad­caster China Central Television yes­ter­day showed footage of the Liaon­ing launch­ing a large con­tin­gent of J15 fighters. The navy’s top com­man­der, Adm. 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. — AP

In this un­dated file photo re­leased by China’s Xin­hua News Agency, China’s air­craft car­rier Liaon­ing berths in a port of China. — AP

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