- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2018

Beijing has kicked off the initial round of sea trials for its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, in yet another clear signal to Washington and its Pacific allies of China’s intent to dominate the region’s hotly contested sea lanes and waterways.

The yet-to-be-named aircraft carrier departed the Chinese navy’s Dalian shipyard in Liaoning province over the weekend for a series of test maneuvers, state-run media outlet Xinhua News reported. Details of those sea trials, as well as the ship’s overall capabilities, remain classified say officials from the People’s Liberation Navy.

“Our country’s second aircraft carrier set sail from its dock … for relevant waters to conduct a sea trial mission, mainly to inspect and verify the reliability and stability of mechanical systems and other equipment,” Xinhua reports.

The new carrier, which is not expected to become fully operational until 2020, features “ski jump”-type aircraft launch system used aboard British, Russian and other European-flagged carriers, which is much shorter compared to the catapult-style launch system used aboard the American fleet.

Once operational, the ship will be able to deploy Shenyang J-15 fighter jets across the Pacific alongside Beijing’s Liaoning carrier, a Soviet-era aircraft carrier bought by 1998 from Ukraine and retrofitted for China’s naval forces.

Chinese military experts claim Beijing will need at least six aircraft carriers to challenge the U.S. and allied naval presence in the Pacific. The Pentagon currently has 10 carrier strike groups, that can be deployed anywhere around the globe.

House defense lawmakers earlier this month fully funded the Navy’s request to build an additional Ford-class carrier, as part of the lower chamber’s version of the Pentagon’s spending blueprint for fiscal year 2019. Navy officials anticipate building four Ford-class vessels, to begin replacing the sea service’s aging Nimitz-class carrier fleet.

Last January, the Liaoning traversed a defensive no-fly zone established by Taiwan, sparking an incident where Taipei ordered warships and fighters into the area to confront the show of force by Beijing.

The Liaoning was returning from a month-long deployment, conducting naval exercises in the contested waters of the South China Sea, when it entered the Taiwanese no-fly zone along the straits.

While the vessel did not cross into Taiwanese territorial waters, Taipei sent in its air and naval forces to ensure none of the jets aboard the carrier were launched into the restricted airspace.

Taiwan’s actions were explicitly designed to demonstrate the country’s “sufficient capability to protect our national security” against threats from China or other nations, said Taiwanese Minister for Mainland Affairs Chang Hsiao-Yueh at the time of the incident.

China’s decision to pass through the restricted area, which sparked Taiwan’s military response, “would not benefit cross-Strait ties” in the future, she added.

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