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Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2012

Beijing's first aircraft carrier christened amid regional tensions

AP, AFP-Jiji

BEIJING — China announced Tuesday that its first aircraft carrier has entered service, underscoring its ambitions to be a leading Asian naval power, although the ship is not expected to carry a full complement of planes or be ready for combat for some time.

The Defense Ministry said the carrier's commissioning significantly boosted the navy's modern combat capabilities along with its ability to cooperate in responding to natural disasters and other nontraditional threats. "It has important significance in effectively safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development benefits, and advancing world peace and common development," the ministry said.

The carrier is the former Soviet Navy's unfinished "Varyag," which was towed from Ukraine in 1998 minus its engines, weaponry and navigation systems. Christened "Liaoning" after the northeastern province surrounding its home port of Dalian, the ship began sea trials last August following years of refurbishment.

There had been swirling speculation on what the vessel was to be called, with retired Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan suggesting naming it "Diaoyu" after the islets at the center of a territorial row in the East China Sea that are claimed by China. Japan also claims the islets, calling them Senkaku.

So far the trial runs of the aircraft carrier have been to test the ship's propulsion, communications and navigation systems. But launching and recovering fixed-wing aircraft at sea is a much trickier proposition. Building the proper aircraft and training pilots to land in adverse weather on a moving deck will take years, as will developing a proper carrier battle group.

Beijing has not said what role it intends the carrier to fill other than helping safeguard China's coastline and sea links.

Writing in Tuesday's China Daily newspaper, retired Rear Adm. Yang Yi said the carrier would be used to master the technology for more advanced carriers and to train how to operate such a craft in a battle group and with vessels from other nation's navies. Without specifically mentioning China's territorial disputes, Yang also acknowledged other countries' concerns about its growing military might, but said Beijing wouldn't shy from flexing its muscles.

"When China has a more balanced and powerful navy, the regional situation will be more stable as various forces that threaten regional peace will no longer dare to act rashly," Yang wrote.



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