South China Sea: Shandong aircraft carrier ‘battle ready’, Beijing declares amid tensions

South China Sea: China to deploy large assault ship

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The Shandong is the PLA Navy’s second aircraft carrier after the Liaoning which is currently operating elsewhere in the South China Sea. According to Gao Xiucheng, a spokesman for the Chinese navy, the latest exercise involved communications, manoeuvres, coordination and field training.

Mr Gao said on May 2 that the exercises were “legitimate and can enhance Chinese capabilities to protect national sovereignty, security, and development interest.”

He added: “We hope the outside world can view [the Shandong’s exercise] objectively and rationally.

“The PLA Navy will continue to organize similar exercises according to the plan regularly in the future.”

The vessel was commissioned in December 2019 by Chinese president Xi Jinping and got operational clearance in October last year.

The PLA ship is capable of carrying a fleet of Shenyang J-15 warplanes equipped with more weapons and fuel than the F/A-18 Super Hornets used on US Navy aircraft carriers.

The Shandong’s military drills come as tensions between Beijing and Washington escalate over South China Sea issues.

Last month, the US Navy released a photo taken from the deck of the USS Mustin showing Naval officers watching over the Liaoning from a very short distance.

Following this, China criticised the US for “destabilising” the region after the Liaoning warned away the USS Mustin.

On the same day as the Chinese warning, US President Joe Biden told Congress that the competition with China would be a litmus test and promised to maintain America’s technological advantage of China.

China’s other aircraft carrier group led by the Liaoning also recently completed military drills and training around Taiwan, Wu Qian, a spokesman at China’s ministry of national defence said on Thursday.

An anonymous expert told PLA mouthpiece Global Times that the deployment of the Shandong and the Liaoning would allow China to deploy warships more often. He noted that while one ship undergoes maintenance the other can take its place.

Also speaking to Global Times, analysts confirmed that the recent military drills by the Liaoning and the Shandong show China’s carriers are actively training for “combat preparedness” to face down any threats.

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Mr Wu said: “China’s aircraft carriers are not ‘homebodies,’ and long distance voyages are bound to become norm.”

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