BEIJING - China's first aircraft carrier officially entered service on Tuesday and the Defence Ministry said it would help project maritime power and defend Chinese territory.
The handover of the vessel comes as China and Japan are
embroiled in a dispute over islands they both claim and China is
concerned over renewed U.S. military interest in Asia.
The carrier, called the Liaoning, was originally purchased
from Ukraine and has undergone extensive renovation in the
Chinese port of Dalian.
“The entry into the ranks of this aircraft carrier will
raise the level of modernisation of China’s overall naval
operational forces,” the ministry said on its website
The Liaoning will help “effectively protect national
sovereignty, security and development interests”, it said.
However, military experts expect the carrier, named after
the northeast province of which Dalian is capital, to have a
limited operational role and to be used mainly for training.
It is, nonetheless, a point of pride for a major navy that
has never had a carrier in its fleet.
“When all the major powers, and even some small and
medium-sized countries, own aircraft carriers, it is natural
that China should have its own aircraft carrier,” Rear Admiral
Yang Yi wrote in a commentary in the China Daily on Tuesday.
“China has vast sea areas and huge maritime rights and
interests that it needs to protect, and China’s growing overseas
interests require a strong navy to provide security guarantees,”
said Yang, a former director of the Institute for Strategic
Studies at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense
The Liaoning will mainly engage in scientific research and
training, Yang said, while adding it would also help China
assert its military power.
“China is tough-minded and will absolutely safeguard its
sovereignty and national dignity,” Yang said. “We stand for
peace, but we are not afraid of any threats or intimidation.”
The row over the East China Sea islands, called Senkaku in
Japan and Diaoyu in China, has strained relations between the
neighbouring economic powers and sparked anti-Japan protests
Japanese coastguard vessels, Chinese surveillance and
fishery patrol ships, and up to 100 Taiwanese fishing boats were
in the area on Tuesday. Taiwan also claims the islands.
China is also worried about the U.S. military’s recently
adopted strategic “pivot” back to Asia after years of being
focused on the Middle East.
The refitted carrier, originally called the Varyag, returned
to Dalian in July after its ninth sea trial, state media said.
China is expected to launch its own domestically built
aircraft carriers after 2015, military analysts say.
However, professional and amateur analysts who study
satellite images of Chinese shipyards have been unable to find
any evidence of construction.
In its annual report on the Chinese military published this
year, the U.S. Defence Department said construction may have
started on some components of domestically built Chinese