On Friday, China's first aircraft carrier and her strike group escorts berthed in Hong Kong, a potent reminder of Beijing's power at a time of tension over the extent of the port city's autonomy.
Naval analysts see the vessel – the Liaoning, a refitted Soviet jump-ramp carrier – as a symbol of China's blue-water ambitions, but not as a significant strategic asset. Like her sister ship, the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, she lacks catapults for launching fully-laden fighters, limiting the combat capability of her air wing. Still, the Liaoning has “coercive and intimidation value when dealing with smaller, rival claimant nations in the South China Sea," according to Euan Graham of the Lowy Institute, speaking with FT. And in Hong Kong, she provides a show of force at a time when China is seeking to remind the territory of Beijing’s authority.
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