China’s Shandong aircraft carrier group concludes South China Sea exercise

Kristin Huang, South China Morning Post

Posted at May 03 2021 03:28 AM

The Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong and its naval support group have concluded an exercise in the South China Sea, the defence ministry said on Sunday.

Gao Xiucheng, a spokesman for the Chinese navy, said the exercises were “legitimate and can enhance Chinese capabilities to protect national sovereignty, security, and development interests,” adding they could also help protect regional peace and stability.

Gao said he hoped the outside world would view this exercise objectively and rationally. “In the future, the Chinese navy will continue to organise similar exercises,” he said.

The Shandong is China’s second aircraft carrier and the first one to be domestically produced.

The exercise was the Shandong’s first drill in the disputed South China Sea this year.

The exercise came weeks after the US and the Philippines voiced concerns about the presence of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels near a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

Manila said some of the ships were part of a maritime militia but China insisted they were fishing vessels “sheltering from the wind.”

The Chinese defence ministry also said that its other carrier, the Liaoning, and its escorts had also carried out exercises around Taiwan and in the South China Sea recently.

Analysts told the nationalist tabloid Global Times that the two carrier groups were actively preparing to deal with any threat the country may face.

China has been enhancing its military capabilities in recent years and last month commissioned three advanced new ships: a Type 09IV ballistic missile submarine, a Type 055 stealth destroyer and its first Type 075 amphibious assault ship. 

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China's first home-built aircraft carrier Shandong shows industrial strength. China Central Television/Reuters

Tensions have risen in the South China Sea in recent years as Beijing, which claims most of the waters for itself, has sought to cement its claims, which are contested by several of its neighbours, by constructing artificial islands and building up its military infrastructure.

The area has also become a major theatre for its rivalry with the United States, which has stepped up its reconnaissance activities in the waters this year.

Last week Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the build-up was “destabilising” and criticised the US over a recent close encounter when the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin was warned away while shadowing the Liaoning’s battle group.

On the same day, the US President Joe Biden told a joint session of Congress that the competition with China would be a litmus test for the merits of democracy versus autocracy and promised to maintain America’s technological advantage.

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