China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning spotted edging close to Guam for first time amid US strategic threats
Published: Dec 29, 2022 09:46 PM
Undated file photo shows the Chinese navy's Liaoning (L) aircraft-carrier receiving supplies during open-sea combat training.Photo:Xinhua

Chinese navy's Liaoning (L) aircraft-carrier receiving supplies during open-sea combat training. Photo:Xinhua

The Liaoning aircraft carrier group of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy was recently spotted for the first time sailing close to Guam, a key US military node in the second island chain, during its ongoing exercises in the West Pacific, a move analysts said on Thursday showed that the Chinese carrier is ready to defend the country against potential US attacks launched from there, including military interference attempts over the Taiwan question.

Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff updated the Liaoning aircraft carrier group's movements in a press release on Wednesday, saying that Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force spotted the PLA Navy's aircraft carrier Liaoning, the Type 055 large destroyer Wuxi, the Type 052D destroyer Chengdu, the Type 054A frigate Zaozhuang and the Type 901 comprehensive replenishment ship Hulunhu continuing their voyage in the West Pacific since entering the region on December 16.

The Liaoning has hosted about 260 fighter jet and helicopter landing and takeoff operations from December 17 to Tuesday, according to the Japanese press release.

Citing a map attached to the release marked with the routes of the Liaoning aircraft carrier group from December 17 to Tuesday, Japan's Kyodo News said on Wednesday that from December 23 to Sunday, the Chinese carrier group sailed south deeper into the West Pacific, arriving in waters west of Guam, before returning to waters east of the island of Taiwan and south of Japan from Monday to Tuesday.

This seems to be the first time the Liaoning has approached Guam, observers said.

The Chinese activity is likely a large-scale movement with an eye on the US military, Kyodo News quoted the Japanese Defense Ministry as saying. 

Guam is home to US air force and bases that host strategic bombers and nuclear-powered submarines, and is considered an important node in the second island chain that is designed to contain China, observers said.

The US is building a group of military bases in Guam, Japan and Australia targeting China, with Guam being a core forward operating base featuring all types of military services, Chinese military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times.

The Liaoning's drills in the West Pacific clearly have a tactical background, as it displayed its enhanced capabilities in seizing air superiority and control of sea far away from homeland, Song said.

China will never attack US military bases in Guam as long as the US military does not attack China or interfere in the Taiwan question, but having such capabilities is a deterrent against potential US provocations, analysts said.

In addition to the Liaoning, which demonstrated its capability in reaching Guam with its latest voyage, the PLA's DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile and H-6K bomber with air-launched standoff missiles can also reach the island, according to media reports.

On Sunday, when the Liaoning aircraft carrier group was near Guam, the PLA Eastern Theater Command organized "record-breaking" cross-service joint combat alert patrols and joint fire strike exercises in maritime and aerial areas around the island of Taiwan in a resolute response to the recent escalation in the US-Taiwan collusion, after US President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 on December 23, marking the first time the US government will finance weapons for the island of Taiwan.

Since the PLA has been focusing on training as a system, it cannot be ruled out that the Liaoning aircraft carrier group's far sea exercise was interrelated with the drills around the island of Taiwan, another Chinese military expert told the Global Times on Thursday, requesting anonymity.

The waters south of Japan and west of Guam, both areas in which the Liaoning has held exercises, are important in cutting off military interference forces from the US and Japan, the expert said.

The Japanese Defense Ministry previously also reported the PLA Navy's Type 055 large destroyer Lhasa, the Type 052D destroyer Kaifeng and the Type 903A replenishment ship Taihu sailed through the Osumi Strait into the West Pacific in mid-December, and has not updated their whereabouts as of press time. The Type 055 large destroyer Anshan, which was previously spotted in the Liaoning aircraft carrier group, is also missing in the latest Japanese report.

It is not known if these activities were also interrelated, observers said.