Hagel China aircraft carrier tour

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to tour China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, officials say, as he begins a three-day visit.

US defence chief Hagel to tour China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to tour China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, officials say, as he begins a three-day visit.

Mr Hagel will arrive in Qingdao on Monday and then head to a naval base. He is thought to be the first senior Western official to board the vessel.

China bought it from Ukraine in 1998 and has spent 10 years refitting it.

It is seen as a potent symbol of China’s ambition to modernise its navy, amid a strategic shift in the region.

Mr Hagel arrives in China from Japan, where he promised to send two ballistic missile defence destroyers by 2017 to join several US warships already stationed there.

While in Japan he also addressed regional territorial disputes, saying Chinese authorities should have “respect for their neighbours”.

“You cannot… redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion and intimidation, whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific or large nations in Europe,” he said.

Sea trials

Mr Hagel is due to meet top leaders in China before flying on to Mongolia.

US officials said that the defence chief made a request to visit the Liaoning and the Chinese side agreed.

The carrier was built in the 1980s for the Soviet navy but was never completed.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the rusting hull – then called the Varyag – sat in dockyards in Ukraine.

A Chinese company with links to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) then bought the Varyag, saying it wanted to turn the vessel 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.

Earlier this year, it completed sea trials in the South China Sea, where China has overlapping territorial claims with several South East Asian nations.

Beijing’s more assertive stance on this issue in recent years has led to a rise in tensions between China and its neighbours, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines.

China is also embroiled in a separate dispute over East China Sea islands that are controlled by Japan.

The vessel has already attracted controversy. Late last year, Mr Hagel criticised China as “irresponsible” after the near-collision of a US warship and a Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea.

The US said its guided missile cruiser, USS Cowpens, was operating in international waters on 5 December when the Chinese vessel – which was accompanying the Liaoning – forced it to take evasive action.

State-run newspaper Global Times, however, quoted an expert as saying that the US boat had been “harassing” the Liaoning as it carried out drills.

Source: BBC.

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