BEIJING AFP March30, 2018- Beijing flexed its military muscle this week as its sole operational aircraft carrier apparently took part in a huge naval drill with dozens of other vessels in the South China Sea, satellite images showed.
The pictures, taken by Planet Labs Inc., appear to show the Liaoning carrier at the centre of a formation of more than 40 other ships lined up in pairs south of China’s Hainan province island on Monday. China’s defence ministry refused to confirm whether the Liaoning took part in drills this week but military experts say the aircraft carrier is identifiable.
Six submarines and two J-15 fighter jets appear to lead the “naval parade”, James Char, a military expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told AFP. “Such a formation serves more of as a visual spectacle with the Liaoning the status symbol of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army),” Char said. “This formation is unlikely to be used in actual combat situations,” he said, adding that he would “not be surprised” if it was purposely aimed at being picked up by satellite images.
The show of force emerged days after Taiwan said that the Liaoning and other vessels had passed through the Taiwan Strait on March 20 -- the same day that Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against any attempts to divide China.
- Sea claims -
Beijing has also been asserting its vast claims to the South China Sea, transforming reefs into islands capable of hosting military equipment. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have their own claims to the sea, while US warships regularly conduct “freedom of navigation” operations near islands controlled by Beijing.