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China deploys first aircraft carrier in South China Sea

Chinese Navy's sole aircraft carrier Liaoning. A file photo

BEIJING (PTI): China's first aircraft carrier has begun its maiden deployment in the South China Sea barely three days after the country declared an air defence zone over islands claimed by Japan, drawing sharp reactions from the US and other nations.

The Liaoning embarked on a cross-sea training voyage to test its equipment in disputed waters, where it is expected to play a key role in maintaining China's dominant presence.

The Chinese Navy is conducting several experiments on the 57,000-tonne carrier, including testing the new J-15 fighter jet's operations from its deck.

This is the first time the carrier has embarked on a training voyage since it was commissioned into the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy last year, Liaoning's Captain Zhang Zheng said.

China's claim of sovereignty over almost all of South China Sea is contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

The Liaoning's deployment followed the declaration on November 23 of the East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone, which covers disputed islands called Diaoyus by China and Senkakus by Japan.

Besides Japan, the US, South Korea and Australia protested to China over the move, warning that it could create serious incidents of conflict.

Under the new zone, all aircraft including civilian flights have to inform the China's Foreign Ministry of their flight path.

Liaoning is regarded as an experimental carrier as it is the first time a country has built such a vessel by converting the hull of a former Soviet ship.

The carrier, originally known as Varyag, was bought from Ukraine a decade ago and extensively refurbished before being commissioned last year.

The Liaoning was on a scientific and training mission, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The carrier was escorted by two missile destroyers, Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, Yantai and Weifang.

Long voyages are necessary for experimentation and training to test equipment and troops under different hydrological and meteorological conditions.

The Liaoning and its crew conducted a series of tests and training drills, including landing and take-off by various aircraft, including the J-15 fighters, Xinhua reported.

The upcoming trial in the South China Sea is a normal arrangement in the carrier's scheduled training, the PLA Navy said while playing down the significance of the voyage.

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