China’s 1st aircraft carrier heads for Western Pacific
Exercise could ignite renewed tension over self-ruled Taiwan
BEIJING: China’s first aircraft carrier will carry out drills in the Western Pacific, in what the navy called part of routine exercises, amid renewed tension over self-ruled Taiwan that Beijing claims as its own. The navy said in a statement late yesterday the Liaoning, along with its accompanying fleet, would conduct “exercises far out at sea”, without giving details of the location or route, in what is likely its first blue-water drill far from home waters. State media said yesterday that 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 the Western Pacific, without elaborating on the location, as part of an annual training plan.
The exercise takes place at a time of tension between China and the United States, the Pacific Ocean’s dominant power, over the sensitive issue of Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims as its territory.
President-elect Donald Trump took a congratulatory Dec 2 phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, marking the first time an American president or presidentelect has publicly spoken to Taiwan’s leader since Washington broke of its formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in 1979. To outrage in Beijing, Trump later suggested he could reevaluate US policy on Taiwan. China seized a US Navy underwater glider in the South China Sea on Dec. 16 in what was seen by Chinese analysts as a warning to Trump.
China said last month that its aircraft carrier, purchased as an incomplete hull from Ukraine more than a decade ago, was ready to engage in combat. The Liaoning recently completed its first live-fire exercise along with fighters in the Bohai Sea in eastern China and, on Friday, the military announced it had carried out a series of fighter launch, recovery and air combat exercises slightly farther afield in the Yellow Sea.
“This exercise is being carried out in accordance with annual exercise plans,” the navy said in a statement also carried on the front page of the official People’s Liberation Army Daily. Taiwan’s defence ministry said yesterday it had been monitoring the drills closely as the Liaoning went through the Miyako Strait, a body of water between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa, heading into the Pacific. It said it was monitoring whether the aircraft carrier would continue into the Bashi Channel, which lies between Taiwan and the Philippines, on its return.
China’s military has conducted its first ever live-fire drills using an aircraft carrier and fighters in the northeastern Bohai Sea close to the Korean peninsula this month, and has more recently been in the East China Sea. The navy showed pictures on its official microblog from the drills in the East China Sea, including J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets launching into the sky, overseen by navy chief Wu Shengli.
They conducted aerial refuelling and air combat exercises on Thursday, the navy said. China’s growing military presence in the disputed South China Sea in particular has fuelled concern, with the United States criticizing its militarization of maritime outposts and holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.
The Western Pacific exercise comes amid new tension over selfruled Taiwan, following US President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with the island’s president that upset Beijing. China’s air force conducted longrange drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine. China’s Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier has participated in previous military exercises, including some in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practiced for decades.
The Japanese Defense 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. China hasn’t described specifically how it intends to use the Liaoning, but it is seen as helping reinforce China’s increasingly assertive claims over almost all of the South China Sea, which is home to key shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of mineral resources. Five other governments claim the maritime space either in part or in whole, and the Philippines and Vietnam in particular have sought assistance from the US and others in beefing up their ability to resist China, including its construction of seven islands by piling sand atop coral reefs. —Agencies
BEIJING: A Chinese J-15 fighter jet landing on the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in the Bohai Sea, off China’s northeast coast. —AFP