China's first aircraft carrier, which was renovated from an old aircraft carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998, is seen docked at Dalian Port, in Dalian, Liaoning province September 22, 2012. Photo: Reuters
China’s first aircraft carrier was handed over Sunday to the navy of the People’s Liberation Army, state press said, amid rising tensions over disputed waters in the East and South China Seas.
The handover ceremony of the 300-metre ship, a former Soviet carrier called the Varyag, took place in northeast China’s port of Dalian after a lengthy refitting by a Chinese shipbuilder, the Global Times reported.
During the handover ceremony the aircraft carrier raised the Chinese national flag on its mast, the PLA flag on its bow and the navy’s colours on its stern, the short online report said.
A ceremony to place the ship into active service would be held sometime in the future, the paper said without elaboration.
The announcement comes at a time of heightened tensions over maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific region, where China’s growing assertiveness has put it on a collision course with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
China on Sunday also postponed a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties with Japan, due to a noisy territorial dispute with Tokyo over the Diaoyu Islands.
Tensions have also risen this year with Vietnam and the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing confirmed last year it was revamping the old Soviet ship, and has repeatedly insisted the carrier poses no threat to its neighbours and will be used mainly for training and research purposes.
But numerous sea trials of the aircraft carrier - currently only known as “Number 16” - since August, 2011 were met with concern from regional powers including Japan and the United States, which called on Beijing to explain why it needed an aircraft carrier.
Relations have sunk to their worst level in years as China and Japan spar over the islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.
In the latest large anti-Japan protest in China, up to 3,000 people demonstrated Sunday in the southern city of Guangzhou, Xinhua reported.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement late Saturday that Japanese personnel had landed on the islands to stop Taiwanese activists from doing so, and China had protested strongly to Japan over the “severe infringement upon China’s territorial sovereignty.”
A group of Taiwanese fishermen have said they will sail 60 boats to the islands on Monday to protect their fishing grounds.
Hundreds of people marched in Taipei on Sunday to protest against Japan for occupying the islands.
Japan’s government purchased several of the islands from their private Japanese owners this month, setting off angry demonstrations across China.