China is sending its only aircraft carrier on a training mission to mark the 20th anniversary of Beijing’s takeover of Hong Kong.
The Liaoning, China's sole aircraft carrier, has departed from its homeport of Qingdao for a training deployment that is projected to include a stop in Hong Kong, to observe the 20th anniversary of the handover of the former British territory to Beijing, according to a report from The Diplomat.
The Liaoning, constructed on a hull built in the former Soviet Union, is scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong next week, possibly coinciding with a June 29-July 1 state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to commemorate the anniversary.
The Liaoning's training mission will also see the deployment of additional escort vessels from the People's Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN), including the destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan, as well as the frigate Yantai, according to China's Xinhua news agency.
The fleet will additionally incorporate an undetermined number of Shenyang J-15 carrier-based fighter jets and helicopters, according to The Diplomat.
Although Xinhua did not specifically mention that the Liaoning would make Hong Kong a port of call, it did state that "The training mission, like previous ones, is expected to strengthen coordination among the vessels and improve the skills of crew and pilots in different marine regions."
As reported by Taiwan's Taipei Times, the Liaoning will again transit the Taiwan Strait ahead of any potential visit to Hong Kong.
The island nation of Taiwan (also known as The Republic of China, or ROC) is labeled by China a Special Administrative Region to Beijing, although most of the rest of the world considers the country to be a sovereign nation.
Residents of the ROC's capital city will be invited to tour the vessels as a means to "appreciate China's national defense capabilities," according to the Hong Kong-based Sing Tao Daily, cited by The Diplomat.
Following the peaceful return of Hong Kong to China by Britain two decades ago, tensions have risen as many residents of the island territory have expressed concern over the loss of democratic rights and the installation of autocratic leaders by Beijing.