China’s aircraft carrier sails near Taiwan, to train in disputed South China Sea

China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier is set to be deployed in weeks as it is set for a critical pre-launch training session in the dispute-ridden South China Sea after having sailed through the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said on Monday.

The carrier, known as Type 002, is the largest warship built by China. Sunday’s sail through the Taiwan Strait was its first appearance on a strategic waterway.

The Chinese aircraft carrier fleet passed through the narrow Taiwan Strait days after an UN warship took the same route: The passage of the Chinese unnamed carrier is said to be a message to self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a breakaway province.

Organizing the domestically-built aircraft carrier for this kind of cross-regional sea testing and training is a normal arrangement in the construction of the carrier, said Cheng Dewei, spokesperson of the PLA Navy, in a video released by the PLA Navy in its Sina Weibo account on Monday.

A military expert told sources on Monday that conducting a sea trial in the South China Sea will allow the aircraft carrier crew to become familiar with the sea area where it will often sail in future.

The deployment of the second carrier will boost China’s rapidly expanding naval power as its warships sail further in international waters.

China’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning, made in the Soviet Union before its dissolution, was launched in 2012.

The new one can carry at least 36 domestically developed J-15 fighter jets, some 50 percent more than the country’s first, state media reported earlier this year. China’s first aircraft carrier the Liaoning can carry 24 J-15 fighter jets.

Xu Guangyu, a senior consultant at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told sources that a sea trial involving an aircraft carrier fleet that includes multiple other vessels is needed before the carrier is commissioned.

“After the sea trial in the South China Sea, the aircraft carrier could sail to a naval port in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province for a commissioning ceremony that will see it finally join the PLA Navy,” the GT report said.

If the domestically developed aircraft carrier is indeed hosted by the Sanya naval port over the long term, the South China Sea will be right at its doorstep, and not far from the island of Taiwan, analysts said.

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