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China's Aircraft Carrier Returns from South China Sea Mission

  • VOA News

FILE - Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning cruises back to port after its first navy sea trial in Dalian, northeastern China.

FILE - Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning cruises back to port after its first navy sea trial in Dalian, northeastern China.

China's first aircraft carrier has returned to its home port after a series of training exercises in the South China Sea.

It was the Liaoning's first long-distance training mission since being commissioned last year, amid concerns about China's growing naval power. The official Xinhua news agency said the carrier "underwent a comprehensive test of its combat system and conducted a formation practice."

Xinhua quoted unnamed naval sources as saying the 37-day trip "attained the anticipated objectives," and that all tests "went well as scheduled."

Zhang Zheng, the Liaoning's captain, said the mission went smoothly.

"We tried to integrate the test, training and combat of the aircraft carrier during this scientific research and training in the South China Sea. And we focused on the research of its safeguard and combat abilities," said Zhang.

The Liaoning was escorted by aircraft, naval vessels and submarines, which also participated in the tests.

On December 5, one of the Chinese warships escorting the Liaoning narrowly avoided colliding with a U.S. naval vessel.

U.S. officials say the USS Cowpens was operating in international waters when it was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the Chinese vessel.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel later said China acted in an "unhelpful" and "irresponsible" manner during the stand-off. Meanwhile, China maintained the encounter was handled "in accordance with strict protocol."

China bought the Liaoning as an unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier from Ukraine in 1998. After spending years refurbishing it, the carrier entered service last September.

The Liaoning's capabilities are seen as limited, and China has described its role as "experimental." Nonetheless, it is viewed as representative of China's wider naval ambitions.

Many of China's neighbors accuse it of being more aggressive in recent years in defending its maritime claims. In the South China Sea, Beijing has overlapping claims with several countries.
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