Hong Kong, July 7 (IANS) China’s first operational aircraft carrier Liaoning arrived in Hong Kong on Friday for its maiden visit as part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the UK to Beijing.
Accompanied by a combat group comprising two destroyers, a frigate, a squadron of fighters, helicopters and 2,000 crew members, the giant 60,900-tonne ship arrived in Hong Kong waters at 7 a.m., reports Efe news.
The carrier’s arrival is being interpreted as a display of sovereignty and territorial integration, as well as a show of military might by the Chinese government, especially in Hong Kong where there is a growing clamour for more autonomy, as witnessed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official visit to the city last weekend.
China has been locked in a sovereignty dispute with many countries of the region over the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea and the East China Sea, and also over control of uninhabited archipelagos such as the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands (administered by Japan) and the Spratly/Paracel Islands.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Hong Kong residents stood in line for hours for a chance to get the 2,000 tickets that would allow them a rare tour of the aircraft carrier over the weekend.
A ferry will shuttle visitors to the Liaoning, where they will be able to view the J-15 fighter jets, among others.
The ship has over 3,500 rooms, including bedrooms, dining rooms, ten cafeterias, gymnasiums, laundry rooms, a shop and separate accommodations for men and women.
Fingerprint scanners restrict entry to the women’s living quarters.
Beijing’s decision to open the ship to the public could be in line with the People’s Liberation Army’s strategy of combining soft power with military prowess to inspire nationalist sentiments.
China bought the Liaoning — built in the erstwhile Soviet Union — from Ukraine, and made it operational in 2012.