Earlier this week, China’s sole aircraft carrier, accompanied by five additional naval vessels, entered the northern half of the embroiled South China Sea. Tensions have been high in the region over the past months due in large part to China’s expanding claims over what is considered by most other nations to be international waters, as well as President-elect Trump’s recent telephone conversation with Taiwan’s president (China claims ownership of the island nation).
The Soviet-built aircraft carrier, Liaoning, has previously entered the South China Sea as a part of naval exercises. China’s fleet has only one such carrier, but U.S. intelligence reports suggest there is another currently under construction and that the Chinese government could potentially build a number of additional aircraft carriers within the next 15 years. China’s aircraft carrier program is a strictly guarded state secret, however, so little is known about any plans for further construction.
“Our Liaoning should enjoy in accordance with the law freedom of navigation and overflight as set by international law, and we hope all sides can respect this right of China’s,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
However, an influential state-run newspaper in China spoke at length about this move signifying China’s ever-increasing naval combat capabilities, and suggested that the fleet could now sail farther than ever.