29 US Naval capts visit China’s lone aircraft carrier

Beijing: Amid simmering South China Sea tensions, China has permitted 29 US naval captains to visit its lone aircraft carrier and meet its personnel to show its prowess. A US delegation composed of 29 naval captains visited the aircraft carrier Liaoning to share their experiences in training, healthcare at sea and aircraft carrier development strategies, China Central Television reported. China’s move to introduce its first and only aircraft carrier was an open and transparent gesture that demonstrated the country’s confidence and sincerity, Zhang Junshe, a research fellow at the China Naval Research Institute told state-run Global Times.

The visit of the US naval officers coincided with the Malabar exercises being held between India, US and Japan in Bay of Bengal over which China has expressed reservations. The US has pressed one of its aircraft carriers, Theodore Roosevelt besides others ships in the exercises. The tour of US officials to the Chinese aircraft carrier is part of an annual exchange program between the Chinese and US navies.

“Amid the simmering South China Sea disputes, the US tour to the Liaoning sent a positive signal as it displays both sides’ willingness for more military changes,” an article in Global Times said. “Given the South China Sea disputes, China and the US in particular should intensify military exchanges to deepen mutual understanding and reduce misunderstanding and misjudgment at sea. The tour to the Liaoning by the US delegation is a good step which displays China’s sincerity in military exchanges with the US and China’s military confidence,” it said.

Tensions continue to build up in the South China Sea after China went ahead with its infrastructure development including building of airstrips and two light houses which China defends as facilities to benefit the navigation maritime, search and rescue, disaster prevention. But at the same time China, which claims sovereignty over all most all of the South China Sea is cagey about US naval ships and reconnaissance planes going through the area. China faced a piquant situation in the area as US is extending security support to the Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan which disputes Beijing’s claims over all most all of the South China Sea.

The US has been asserting that its military will continue to fly and sail through the airspace of the contested islands to assert the freedom of navigation in the islands and reefs being developed by China. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said during the recent tour of Australia that “make no mistake, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea will not be an exception,” Carter said.

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