HONG KONG - China's defence ministry has confirmed that the country's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, will make its first port call at Hong Kong next week.
"The 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover is also the 20th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong," said a spokesman for the Chinese Defence Ministry, Mr Wu Qian.
"It is an anniversary worth celebrating. Liaoning will stop by Hong Kong during its regional training and join the PLA's celebrations of the handover."
More details will be announced later, he added on Thursday (June 29).
The carrier will arrive on July 7, reported the Standard newspaper. The date marks the 80th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge incident, widely seen as marking the beginning of China's war with Japan in 1937.
This will be the first time Liaoning is making a port call at Hong Kong.
The 60,000-tonne Liaoning will berth near Stonecutters Island as it would not be able to moor at a pier, according to a report. The Standard reported that visitors will be allowed to board the carrier via a connecting boat.
Hong Kong residents would be allowed to tour the ships and are being invited to do so to "appreciate China's national defence capabilities", reported Sing Tao Daily.
During its five-day port call, Liaoning will join the People Liberation Army's (PLA) military band, marine band and ceremonial guard in a military band performance in the middle of July to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China.
The PLA's Hong Kong garrison ceremonial guard - as well as bands from the United States, Russia and Britain - will take part in the event, reported The Standard.
The aircraft carrier is currently undergoing training before it is scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong. It departed from its home naval base in Qingdao on June 25.
South China Morning Post reported that Taiwan is closely watching the movement of the aircraft carrier over whether it will pass through the Taiwan Strait before stopping in Hong Kong to mark the 20th handover anniversary.
Liaoning is travelling with a flotilla that includes the destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan and frigate Yantai. It was also carrying a squadron of J-15 fighters and some helicopters, Xinhua reported.
Hong Kong-based China watcher Johnny Lau said the visit of Liaoning to the city on July 7 was aimed to instil patriotism and serve the purpose of national education.
"The carrier would be a useful tool to teach Hong Kong people that chapter of history about China going to the war against Japan - mainland officials always hold the view that Hong Kongers know little about national history," he told SCMP.
"It will also be a reminder that China is on its way of national revival."
Military experts expect the flotilla to conduct operational training in waters around the South China Sea, before passing to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In early January, the Liaoning-led flotilla sailed up the Taiwan Strait on its return from the exercises, heightening cross-strait tensions.
Taiwan's defence ministry spokesman Major General Chen Chung-chi said the Taiwanese military is keeping a close eye on the Chinese military's movements in the region and taking necessary precautions, reported Taipei Times.