China aircraft carrier Liaoning sailed into the southern waters of Hong Kong around 7am on Friday (July 7), to join in the city’s celebrations marking 20 years since its return to China from Britain.

The maiden trip by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) first aircraft carrier to Hong Kong is a clear display of national military might in the city since PLA first entered the city during the handover on July 1, 1997. The PLA which recruits only mainlanders, is responsible for defending Hong Kong as the city does not have its own separate army.

July 7 marks the 80th anniversary of the “July 7 Incident” that triggered Japan’s full-scale invasion of  China in 1937.

The carrier battle group which comprises the Liaoning, the guided-missile destroyers CNS Jinan and CNS Yinchuan, the guided-missile frigate CNS Yantai and several J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets and helicopters, carried out its first live-fire exercise in the South China Sea last December(2016).

Measuring more than 300 metres long and about 75 metres wide, there are more than 3,000 rooms, 10 cafeterias, a TV station and a band onboard Liaoning which is powered by a conventional propulsion system.

A total of 2,000 tickets for the public tours to be held on Saturday and Sunday were distributed to Hong Kong residents and another 1,600 tickets were given out to designated organisations.

Ticket holders will be able to tour Liaoning and the three vessels – Jinan, Yinchuan and Yantai – in its fleet.The 305 metre-long Liaoning, a secondhand Soviet ship built nearly 30 years ago, was commissioned in 2012,

Hundreds of Hong Kongers had queued overnight for free tickets to tour Liaoning which is opening to the public for the first time since it was commissioned in 2012.

Residents who gathered along the southern coasts of Hong Kong were able to get a close look at the 60,900 tonne colossal warship which left Chinese city Qingdao on Sunday, as it sailed through the East Lamma Channel into the waters south of Tsing Yi Island where it would anchor, the South China Morning Post reported.

At 10am, Chief Executive Carrie Lam will officiate a ceremony together with top local officials to welcome the naval battle group at the PLA’s Stonecutters naval base. In the evening, a ceremony and reception will be held onboard Liaoning by its commander Rear Admiral Ding Yi, which will be graced by the city’s pro-Beijing camp.

But ticket-holders are banned from bringing cameras when they board the aircraft carrier on Saturday, reports said, while foreign media outlets have not been invited to cover the event.

The carrier battle group comprises the Liaoning, the guided-missile destroyers CNS Jinan and CNS Yinchuan, the guided-missile frigate CNS Yantai and several J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets and helicopters.

Authorities have also set up a temporary no-fly zone in the area where the Liaoning will be berthed near the city’s Tsing Ma suspension bridge.

The Liaoning, named after a northeastern Chinese province, left its home port of Qingdao on June 25 for a “routine training mission”, said the Chinese defence ministry. It sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday (July 2) en route to Hong Kong, prompting Taiwan to scramble fighter jets and warships .

While the Liaoning remains China’s only operational aircraft carrier, a second China-made carrier was launched in April. It is expected to be put into service in 2020.

Just last week (June 28), China launched a new class of naval destroyer,  a 10000-tonne vessel designed and produced in the country. China’s military calls the Type 055 destroyer “the most advanced and largest warship in Asia”, equipped with new air defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons.

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