HONG KONG - China aircraft carrier Liaoning sailed into the southern waters of Hong Kong around 7am on Friday (July 7), to join in the city’s celebrations marking 20 years since its return to China from Britain.
The maiden trip by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) first aircraft carrier to Hong Kong, following China President Xi Jinping’s visit last week, is a clear display of national military might in the city since PLA first entered the city during the handover on July 1, 1997. The PLA which recruits only mainlanders, is responsible for defending Hong Kong as the city does not have its own separate army.
During a ceremony to welcome the carrier battle group at the PLA’s Stonecutters naval base on Friday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the fleet’s visit will allow Hong Kong residents “to experience the country’s military achievements, especially the development of the naval force”.
“This will greatly enhance Hong Kong residents understanding and recognition of the country,” she added.
Hundreds of Hong Kongers had queued overnight on Sunday(July2) for free tickets to tour Liaoning which is opening to the public for the first time this weekend (sat and sun), since it was commissioned in 2012. A total of 3,600 tickets have been distributed to the public and selected organizations.
July 7 also marks the 80th anniversary of the “July 7 Incident” that triggered Japan’s full-scale invasion of China in 1937.
Hong Kong-based China watcher Johnny Lau said: “By opening the aircraft carrier for the first time to Hong Kongers, the central government is showing its high concern for Hong Kong and its people. It’s like a gift to Hong Kong and I believe the main purpose of Liaoning is to bridge the gap between the mainland and Hong Kong.
“With Liaoning being part of the 20th handover anniversary celebrations, it can help to raise nationalism of Hong Kong people. There are also plans by the central government to accept Hong Kong youths into the PLA in the future. And such plans could be implemented during Carrie Lam’s administration. Liaoning complements nationalism education to the youths in Hong Kong and in the long run it can help to ease the tension between the city and the mainland.”
The carrier battle group which comprises the Ukraine-built Liaoning, the guided-missile destroyers CNS Jinan and CNS Yinchuan, the guided-missile frigate CNS Yantai and several J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets and helicopters, carried out its first live-fire exercise in the South China Sea last December(2016).
Measuring more than 300 metres long and about 75 metres wide, there are more than 3,000 rooms, 10 cafeterias, a TV station and a band onboard Liaoning which is powered by a conventional propulsion system.
On Friday evening, a ceremony and reception will be held onboard Liaoning by its commander Rear Admiral Ding Yi, which will be graced by the city’s pro-Beijing camp. But ticket-holders are banned from bringing cameras when they board the aircraft carrier on Saturday, reports said, while foreign media outlets have not been invited to cover the event.
For two days starting Saturday( July 8), ticket holders will be able to tour Liaoning and the three vessels – Jinan, Yinchuan and Yantai – in its fleet. A total of 2,000 tickets for the public tours to be held on Saturday and Sunday were distributed to Hong Kong residents and another 1,600 tickets were given out to designated organisations.
Residents who gathered along the southern coasts of Hong Kong were able to get a close look at the 60,900 tonne colossal warship which left Chinese city Qingdao on Sunday, as it sailed through the East Lamma Channel into the waters south of Tsing Yi Island where it would anchor, the South China Morning Post reported.
Sailing in now: advance guard for first visit to Hong Kong by Chinese navy's first aircraft carrier the Liaoning pic.twitter.com/Z6kngwy9jE
— Andreas Paleit (@andreaspaleit) July 7, 2017
At 10am, Chief Executive Carrie Lam will officiate a ceremony together with top local officials to welcome the naval battle group at the PLA’s Stonecutters naval base. In the evening, a ceremony and reception will be held onboard Liaoning by its commander Rear Admiral Ding Yi, which will be graced by the city’s pro-Beijing camp.
But ticket-holders are banned from bringing cameras when they board the aircraft carrier on Saturday, reports said, while foreign media outlets have not been invited to cover the event.
The carrier battle group comprises the Liaoning, the guided-missile destroyers CNS Jinan and CNS Yinchuan, the guided-missile frigate CNS Yantai and several J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets and helicopters.
Authorities have also set up a temporary no-fly zone in the area where the Liaoning will be berthed near the city's Tsing Ma suspension bridge.
— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) July 7, 2017
The Liaoning, named after a northeastern Chinese province, left its home port of Qingdao on June 25 for a "routine training mission", said the Chinese defence ministry. It sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday (July 2) en route to Hong Kong, prompting Taiwan to scramble fighter jets and warships .
While the Liaoning remains China's only operational aircraft carrier, a second China-made carrier was launched in April. It is expected to be put into service in 2020.
Just last week (June 28), China launched a new class of naval destroyer, a 10000-tonne vessel designed and produced in the country. China's military calls the Type 055 destroyer "the most advanced and largest warship in Asia", equipped with new air defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons.