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China's first aircraft carrier enters into service

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 25th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The 990-foot Liaoning, a refurbished Soviet ship purchased form Ukraine, has become China's first aircraft carrier. The warship has entered into service at a time of heightened maritime tensions in the area. Officials stress the carrier has no operational aircraft, and will only be used for training in the meantime.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - China says that the Liaoning, which has undergone extensive sea trials, will increase its capacity to defend state interests.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao said the ship would have "a mighty and deep significance . a cause for patriotic passion," he said at a ceremony attended by top Chinese leaders at Dalian Port.

The carrier sends a clear signal to other countries in the region that Beijing's maritime ambitions are growing. The new carrier is more a symbol of a future capability than a potent naval threat itself.

It will be awhile before the carrier becomes fully operational. A whole range of skills need to be learned; and carriers have to operate with other ships, requiring a new mindset across the navy as a whole.

China is moving ahead steadily, taking the first steps on the path to having a fully-fledged carrier force. Japan, along with other countries in the region have expressed concern at China's growing naval strength. Both China and Japan are embroiled in a row over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Several Southeast Asian nations are also at odds with China over overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"Having the aircraft carrier enter the ranks will be of important significance in raising the overall fighting capacity of our nation's navy to a modern level," the defense ministry said in a statement.

The vessel will "increase [China's] capacity to defend, develop its capacity to co-operate on the high seas in dealing with non-traditional security threats and will be effective in defending the interests of state sovereignty, security and development," it added.

China's Communist leaders are spending billions modernizing their armed forces so they can project military power far beyond China's borders.

However -- China doesn't yet have a fleet of aircraft or pilots ready for carrier operations. The Liaoning will be used to test and train them, a task that will probably take several years.

Formerly known as the Varyag, the Liaoning was constructed in the 1980s for the Soviet navy but was never completed. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Varyag sat in Ukraine's dockyards.

A Chinese company with links to China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) bought the ship just as Soviet warships were being cut for scrap.

The Varyag was originally intended to be built into a floating casino in Macau. In 2001 the ship was towed to China.

The Chinese military confirmed in June 2011 that it was being refitted to serve as the nation's first aircraft carrier.

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