Japan monitoring Chinese aircraft carrier in the Pacific

Tokyo:The Japanese government said on Monday that it is keeping a close watch on the activities of Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning in the Western Pacific, and added that its military drills “show the expansion of capabilities of the Chinese naval forces”.

Liaoning is part of a Chinese naval fleet that was spotted by the Japanese Self Defence Forces while sailing in the East China Sea, some 110 km northeast of the island of Miyako, Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press briefing.

This is the first time that Japanese troops have confirmed the presence of the Chinese carrier in the region, Suga said, adding that Tokyo “will continue monitoring the situation closely”, Efe news reported.

China’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning set sail Saturday for Western Pacific waters to carry out military manoeuvres in the region, Beijing’s defence ministry said.

The drills come at a time of tensions in the Pacific, following a recent telephone conversation between US President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-wen that sparked strong criticism from Beijing.

Japan and China are also embroiled in a dispute in this region over the sovereignty of the Senkaku islands (known as Diaoyu in China), a group of uninhabited islands administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.

The exact location of the Chinese navy flagship’s manoeuvres remains unknown, with the country’s defence ministry only disclosing that they would take place in “distant waters” in what is one of the first incursions by Liaoning – commissioned in 2012 – in international waters.

The ship is of Soviet make and was purchased from Ukraine, then rebuilt, mainly for use in training and research missions, according to the defence ministry.