China's one and only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, set sail again recently to test a routine but important maneuver: aircraft takeoff from its deck and a completely stopped landing back on deck.
This step appears to be technically daunting for Chinese pilots. Since its commissioning in late September, China's multitude of Internet users have roundly ridiculed the Liaoning for its inability to do what aircraft carriers are designed to do: launch and land attack aircraft.
The lack of pilot skills for the maneuver was not the only material amusing skeptics. For months, the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) navy could not even decide on the type of fixed-wing aircraft to be deployed with the Liaoning.
A widely speculated choice is China's J-15 stealth fighter jet, which appears to be a knockoff version of Russia's Sukhoi Su-33 that includes a few Chinese fighter features and avionics.
Two weeks ago, the Liaoning reportedly conducted touch-and-go maneuvers that involved jets conducting nonstop landings and takeoffs on the deck.
The stop-and-go maneuver is standard carrier-pilot training and requires far more than pilot skills and coordination with carrier deck crews. The reason: Landing jets must use arresting cables on the deck that catch an aircraft's tail hook.
Reports from the region say China had been unable to produce the highly sophisticated arresting cables, which require precise strength and flexibility that enable skilled operators to apply the exact amount of tension on the cable during the landing maneuver.
If successful, stop-and-go maneuvers will mark a significant step forward in China's carrier program. It's something that has been done for decades by developed naval powers such as the United States, but the process is a big leap for emerging and ambitious maritime aspirants such as China.
PLA officials who spoke to reporters in China over the weekend during the ongoing 18th Party Congress confirmed that the Liaoning will be used as a training ship for future aircraft carriers.
China is building at least two more carriers in its Shanghai shipyard, according to published reports.
Japan's runners BANNED
Chinese authorities apparently have barred Japanese runners from participating in the annual Beijing Marathon, scheduled for Nov. 25.
"Japan" was removed recently from the nationality options in the organizers' registration website. Should a Japanese runner want to participate, that runner would have to register as belonging to another nationality.
Japan's press had a field day criticizing the nationally insulting measure. Since the marathon's inaugural run in 1981, Japanese runners have participated in all its annual running events.
As of Monday, more 30,000 people had registered for this year's Beijing Marathon, according to the event's official website. None of the listed runners is Japanese.
China apparently imposed the ban in retaliation for Tokyo's recent decision to nationalize three of the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing says belong to China.
Facing international criticism and possible sanctions from world sporting authorities, Chinese officials recently rushed to the public stage to explain the ban.
Through state-run media, the Beijing Marathon organizing committee issued a statement after Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported the story. The statement said the reason for barring Japanese runners was "safety concerns" for them. It did not elaborate.
The official Chinese explanation failed to convince most Japanese.
The Beijing Marathon banned Japanese sponsors as well, the first time such a ban has been applied in the marathon's history. Up to now, Japanese corporations, including All Nippon Airways and Canon, were major sponsors of the event.
Despite violent attacks on all things Japanese and Japanese-speaking people in China after the outbreak of bilateral tensions over the disputed islands several months ago, Japanese athletes also took part unmolested in other high-profile events.
On Nov. 3, Japanese figure skaters Mao Asada beat Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia and Finland's Kiira Korpi to win the Cup of China. Ms. Asada's compatriot, Tatsuki Machida, won the men's singles in Shanghai at the same event -- all without any incidents.
• Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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