BEIJING (Dispatches) -- An aircraft carrier group led by China’s second aircraft carrier the Shandong is conducting a series of exercises in the South China Sea in its first known voyage of the year, almost immediately after the country’s first carrier the Liaoning left the region, and Chinese analysts said on Sunday that the move highlighted the fact that the two aircraft carriers that China currently operates are actively training for combat preparedness.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy recently organized the Shandong aircraft carrier group for exercises in waters in the South China Sea, Senior Captain Gao Xiucheng, a spokesperson from the PLA Navy, said in a statement on Sunday.
China has repeatedly complained about United States Navy ships getting close to islands in the South China Sea.
U.S. carrier groups have sailed near Chinese islands in the waters several times this year, drawing denunciation from China.
The exercise was described as routine training and part of the Chinese navy’s annual work plan. The Shandong entered service in 2019 and is the newer of China’s two carriers.
"It is completely legitimate and beneficial in improving the country’s ability to uphold national sovereignty and security,” Gao Xiucheng, a spokesman from the PLA navy said in a statement.
Gao said China hopes the world will see the exercise from an objective and rational viewpoint. He said the Chinese navy will continue conducting such exercises according to its schedule.
China’s navy said last month similar drills will come more regularly amid escalating tensions with the island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory.
As China’s second aircraft carrier which entered service in December 2019 and underwent further trials and training sessions in 2020, the Shandong is gaining enhanced combat capability, a Beijing-based military expert told the Global Times on Sunday, requesting anonymity.
The spokesperson said that the Shandong is in a group, and this means the aircraft carrier could practice coordinating with other vessels including destroyers and frigates like in real combat, instead of acting alone and testing its own technical parameters like during trial phases, the expert said.
Gao did not announce which ships other than the Shandong are included in the group.
Having two aircraft carriers means the PLA Navy can deploy these large warships more often, according to the anonymous expert, who noted that when one undergoes maintenance, the other can take its place.