China’s first operational aircraft carrier has arrived in Hong Kong for the first time, following recent celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to China.
Escorted by three warships, the Liaoning carrier entered Hong Kong’s waters on Friday morning. It was the carrier’s first trip outside mainland China, and the vessel will head for an anchorage near the Tsing-Yi Island to dock for five days.
Earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping had made a visit to the territory to participate in the celebrations and swear in a new leader for Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (L) leaves the stage with China’s President Xi Jinping (R) after being sworn in as the territory’s new leader in Hong Kong, July 1, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
During his trip to Hong Kong, where large pro- and anti-Beijing rallies were held, Xi warned that any threats to the sovereignty of China over the city would “cross the red line and are absolutely impermissible.” He said Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty had had “more extensive democratic rights and freedoms than at any other time in its history.”
The 60,000-ton Liaoning is capable of sailing at a top speed of 37 kilometers per hour and can carry 36 aircraft.
In December, a Chinese naval battle group, involving the Liaoning, conducted a live-fire drill in China’s northeastern waters in a show of force amid an escalating war of words with the United States.
The drills were held amid heightening tensions over Washington’s military presence in contested waters near China and a drama involving US President Donald Trump’s controversial stance on Taiwan, another self-ruled territory claimed by China.
The Liaoning is China’s only operational aircraft carrier. A second China-made carrier was launched in April but is not expected to enter service until around 2020.