China shows off new aircraft carrier to US defence chief
By Dan De Luce, AFP
April 7, 2014, 3:22 pm TWN
Qingdao, China - China will show off its new aircraft carrier to US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday, allowing the Pentagon chief a first-hand look at a symbol of the country's growing military prowess.
Hagel arrived in the port city of Qingdao to kick off a three-day tour of China with a visit to the carrier at Yuchi naval base. He will be the first foreigner allowed aboard the vessel by the often secretive Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), officials said.
The carrier visit was "significant" as Washington has tried to forge a dialogue with China's top brass to defuse tensions and prodded Beijing to be more open about its military, said a senior US defence official.
"We requested this and they agreed," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The carrier, the Liaoning, "symbolises for the PLA their ambition to project naval power," the official said.
Upon arrival in Qingdao, Hagel was greeted by Chinese military officers and US ambassador Max Baucus.
The Liaoning was a Soviet-made warship based in Ukraine that the Chinese bought and refitted, completing the work in September 2012 in a symbolic milestone for the country's expanding military.
China also reportedly has started constructing the second of four planned aircraft carriers, amid plans to begin operating an air wing of about 30 planes off the Liaoning as early as next year.
Unlike American aircraft carriers, the Liaoning is not nuclear-powered and has a shorter range, and it has no catapult system for launching aircraft but merely an inclined ramp.
The Liaoning nevertheless reinforces the image of China as a military power with global reach and could be used in confrontations with smaller countries that have territorial disputes with Beijing, analysts say.
The carrier also coincides with major investments in submarines, anti-ship missiles and other hardware designed to bolster China's naval clout in an area once solely dominated by the American fleet.