- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Chinese military on Tuesday kicked off a series of 10-day military exercises in the South China Sea involving the country’s second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, as Beijing seeks to build up its naval and air forces to compete with the U.S. in the Pacific.

Chinese media reported that the drills will be held off the coast of China’s Hainan province and will continue through Jan. 7.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) routinely holds exercises in the waters of the South China Sea. But the latest series is especially noteworthy because of the presence of the Shandong, a massive aircraft carrier that officially joined the Chinese navy last year and is expected to be combat-ready within a few months.

“The Shandong aircraft carrier and China’s second Type 075 amphibious assault ship will join the exercises,” the South China Morning Post quoted a PLA source as saying.

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper also reported that the Shandong is expected to take part in the drills, which will also include a host of other PLA warships and military assets.

Construction on the Shandong began in 2013, and the ship had its first sea trials in 2018, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ China Power Project. The carrier is believed to be capable of moving at a cruising speed of 31 knots and can easily accommodate dozens of fighter jets and helicopters.

The carrier recently conducted a series of nighttime drills in the Bohai Sea, such as “departing port at night, sailing through narrow water channels, maritime search and rescue and damage management,” the Global Times reported, adding that the vessel soon could embark on landing exercises.

Despite the Shandong’s progress, China still lags far behind the U.S. in carrier capabilities. The U.S. boasts 10 massive Nimitz-class carriers, along with numerous smaller vessels.

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