Beijing: China`s first aircraft carrier passed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, the narrow strip of waters separating China and Taiwan, as it headed to the disputed South China Sea on its maiden voyage for training.
It took about 10 hours for the Liaoning and its four escort ships to get through the Strait separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.
The Strait has historic significance as it was theatre for several military confrontations between Mainland China and Taiwan since the last days of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
China asserts that Taiwan is integral part of it.
Though both are currently working out?rapprochement, Taiwan has significant military build up to deter any assault and Beijing opposed US arms sales to Taipei.
During the voyage, the carrier has kept a high degree of vigilance against approaches from foreign warships and aircraft, Liaoning Captain Zhang Zheng said.
The Chinese official media has given high publicity for the carrier`s peaceful passage through the Strait.
The Liaoning entered the Taiwan Strait yesterday after it left home port in Qingdao of east China`s Shandong Province on Tuesday for the South China Sea on a training mission.
This is Lioning`s first attempt to enter the disputed South China Sea where China is locked in territorial disputes with its neigbours including Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The carrier was escorted by two missile destroyers, the Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, the Yantai and Weifang.
This is the first time the carrier has conducted a cross-sea training voyage and passed through the Taiwan Strait since it was commissioned into the People`s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in September last year, according to Zhang.
It is also the fifth time this year that the vessel has been out to sea for experiments and training, the captain said, adding that all the year`s operations have been conducted as scheduled.
Progress has been made regarding everything from integration of the carrier and carrier-borne aircraft to the skills of the carrier staff and aircraft pilots to the testing of equipment under complicated conditions, which has laid a firm foundation for proceeding trials, Xinhua quoted Zhang as saying.
The upcoming South China Sea engagement is a normal arrangement in the carrier`s scheduled training, according to the PLA Navy.
The Liaoning is China`s only aircraft carrier in operation. It was refitted based on an unfinished carrier of the former Soviet Union. The refitted carrier was delivered to the navy in September last year. China is reportedly building two or three more such carriers.