China’s sole aircraft carrier the Liaoning has arrived at a naval base on the southern Chinese province of Hainan, a senior Taiwanese military officer said on Wednesday, after drills that took it around the island China claims as its own. China has given few details of what the Soviet-built Liaoning is up to, save that it is on a routine exercise. Taiwan has said the aircraft carrier skirted waters outside its air defence identification zone to its east and south and then headed across the top of the South China Sea to Hainan, home to a large Chinese naval base.
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“The Liaoning aircraft carrier has reached the Hainan military base. We will continue to monitor its developments,” a senior Taiwanese military official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.
China has been testing the aircraft carrier’s systems and coordination with other military equipment, the officer said, and its arrival in Hainan did not mean its mission was over.
“Once you go out, don’t you need to go home?” the officer said.
The drill, which included accompanying warships, comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan, which China claims as its own and says is ineligible for state-to-state relations, following U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with the island’s president that upset Beijing.
China’s air force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
The Liaoning has taken part in previous exercises, including in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practised for decades.
Last December, the defence ministry confirmed China was building a second aircraft carrier but its launch date is unclear. The aircraft carrier programme is a state secret.