Chinese carrier leads live fire drill in East China Sea

Beijing (AFP) –


A flotilla of Chinese naval vessels held a "live combat drill" in the East China Sea, state media reported early Tuesday, the latest show of force by Beijing's burgeoning navy in disputed waters that have riled neighbours.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said the vessels, led by China's sole aircraft carrier the Liaoning, "took part in anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training" with a simulated "opposing force".

Xinhua said the drill, which took place on Sunday, included multiple take-offs from the deck of the Liaoning by J15 fighter jets and that "anti-air missiles were fired from ships surrounding the carrier".

The Liaoning is a refurbished Cold War-era aircraft carrier that was bought from Ukraine and commissioned in 2012.

It has been on a high visibility tour in recent weeks, carrying out a series of muscle-flexing drills accompanied by a flotilla of support ships including destroyers.

Earlier this month Chinese president Xi Jinping inspected the convoy as it conducted exercises in the disputed South China Sea.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich waterway, building an archipelago of artificial islands there capable of hosting military equipment, despite rival claims from several of its Southeast Asian neighbours.

The flotilla then held two separate drills last week in waters on either side of Taiwan, infuriating the government in Taipei.

China sees democratically-governed Taiwan as a renegade part of its territory to be brought back into the fold and has not ruled out reunification by force.

Sunday's live fire exercises occurred in the East China Sea, home to uninhabited islets at the centre of a festering row between Tokyo and Beijing.

The Japanese government has long complained about China's routine dispatch of coast guard ships to waters surrounding the islands.

The presence of a navy convoy carrying out live fire drills in the East China Sea could anger Tokyo.

The Liaoning is the pride of China's rapidly expanding navy, with Beijing determined to become a major global naval power, particularly in the Pacific.

It has vowed to build more aircraft carriers in the coming years.

Its chief Pacific rival the United States currently boasts eleven operating aircraft carriers and two more currently under construction.