CHINA / MILITARY
Carrier Shandong likely to return to S.China home port for future missions after recent Straits transit: analyst
May on route to base after gaining combat ability
Published: Dec 20, 2020 11:48 PM

Aircraft carrier Shandong. Photo:Xinhua



The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, sailed through the Taiwan Straits on Sunday toward the south in a combat group of four other PLA warships media reported. 

The move was likely part of its journey from Northeast China to return to its home port on the doorstep of the South China Sea for future missions after gaining combat capability through three training voyages over the past year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts said.

Taiwan's defense authority on Sunday said that the Shandong aircraft carrier of the PLA Navy, together with four other affiliated warships, on Thursday set out from Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province and on Sunday crossed the Taiwan Straits and continued its way toward south, media on the island of Taiwan reported on Sunday.

Claiming it monitored the PLA warships' transits with six ships and eight aircraft, the island's military said the situation was "under control," the report said.

Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times on Sunday that since the Shandong will likely be deployed for activities in the South China Sea, the aircraft carrier was likely sailing back to its naval base in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province after finishing its third voyage in 2020.

After its commissioning ceremony in Sanya on December 17, 2019, the Shandong returned to the Dalian Shipyard where it was constructed, conducting three training voyages throughout the year. The first was reportedly held in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea from May 25 to June 17, the second took place in the Bohai Sea from September 1 to 22, and the third from November 21 to December 13 in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, and featured key training subjects including maximum sorties and recovery exercises for J-15 fighter jets that led military observers to believe the Shandong was about to reach initial operational capability.

It was a year struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many warships, including four US aircraft carriers headed by USS Theodore Roosevelt were severely hit by the novel coronavirus. But the Shandong does not seem to have been affected by the virus due to its effective epidemic control and prevention measures, smoothly conducted training and exercises, and for the third time - the first since COVID-19 - the vessel sailed through the Taiwan Straits, analysts noted.

Prior to the Shandong's Taiwan Straits transit, media on the island of Taiwan wrongly reported that it was the Liaoning, the PLA's first aircraft carrier, that was about to sail through the Taiwan Straits, and leaders of Taiwan's defense authorities on Monday rushed to a command center to deal with the situation.

Every time a PLA aircraft carrier group passes through the Taiwan Straits, it causes nervousness to Taiwan authorities, but such transits have already become routine, Chinese mainland observers said. The Liaoning sailed through the Taiwan Straits on various occasions since its commissioning in September 2012. The Shandong also sailed through the Straits twice in late 2019, before and after its commissioning ceremony in Sanya.

By sailing through the Taiwan Straits, which is to the west of Taiwan island, rather than a route on the east side, the PLA could be understood as demonstrating its control in the Straits and China's sovereignty over the island of Taiwan, Xu said.

On Friday evening, US Navy destroyer USS Mustin sailed through the Taiwan Straits, and the PLA Eastern Theater Command organized naval and aerial forces to track and monitor its course, the command revealed on Saturday.

The island of Taiwan recently also started construction of new submarines and launched new warships, while the US has been approving arms sales to the island, all with the PLA in mind.

The Shandong's transit on Sunday could also be seen a countermeasure in response to Taiwan regional authorities' latest military provocations, and it could also aim to deter secessionists on the island and the US incumbent administration from colluding to stir troubles in the region, Xu said.

Experts said that the Chinese mainland will operate more and more aircraft carriers, and transits in the Taiwan Straits will only become more frequent.

Another Chinese mainland military expert told the Global Times on Sunday that the Taiwan military is making an empty show of strength by claiming it has a grasp of PLA activities, and the move aims to comfort and attract attention to people on the island.

Taiwan military's actions will be meaningless in wartime, and PLA's aircraft carriers will enable the mainland to resolve the Taiwan question more efficiently, the expert said.

"It is not the Taiwan military the PLA aircraft carriers have in mind, but stronger opponents," the expert said.


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