World

China's aircraft carrier draws HK crowd

HONG KONG: China's first aircraft carrier sailed into Hong Kong waters yesterday, in a show of growing military might amid rising regional tension.

Tourists and residents gathered to watch the massive carrier on its maiden visit to Hong Kong, as part of celebrations marking 20 years since the handover of the city from British to Chinese rule.

The Liaoning was accompanied by two destroyers and other ships from its strike group, with jet fighters and helicopters visible on the flight deck alongside hundreds of crew in white uniforms.

Anchoring off Lantau island in the harbour's outer reaches, the carrier was flanked by a protective cordon of marine police craft and a locally based Chinese navy corvette.

Police boats sounded horns to prevent private vessels getting any closer than a few hundred metres of the Liaoning.

"The Liaoning's visit shows that China is a militarily superior country," said Mr Jack Chan, a retired businessman, as he watched the aircraft carrier from an oceanfront park.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents queued for hours on Monday for just 2,000 tickets for access to the vessel this weekend. Many left empty handed.

China's first domestically built carrier, launched in April, is not yet operational.

Hong Kong is more used to hosting US carriers and other foreign warships.

Following the visit, Hong Kong is expected to play host to more frequent military displays as Beijing seeks new ways of forging nationalist sentiment in Hong Kong.

While the People's Liberation Army troops stationed in barracks across the former British colony will remain a low-key presence, more robust public engagement and displays of China's growing military capabilities are likely, according to local officials, foreign envoys and analysts.

US consulate officials told Reuters they had yet to be invited on board the Liaoning.

The US navy often hosts People's Liberation Army officers on ships visiting Hong Kong. - REUTERS

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