Chinese carrier leads live fire drill in East China Sea

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Zhanjiang in southern China is home to the South Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army

Zhanjiang in southern China is home to the South Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army (AFP Photo/-)

China's sole aircraft carrier has led a flotilla of naval vessels in a "live combat drill" in the East China Sea, state media reported Tuesday, the latest show of force by Beijing's burgeoning navy.

The official Xinhua news agency said the vessels "took part in anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training" with a simulated "opposing force".

Xinhua said the drill, which took place on Sunday, included multiple take-offs from the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier by J-15 fighter jets and that "anti-air missiles were fired from ships surrounding the carrier".

The manoeuvre occurred in the East China Sea, though the report did not give an exact location.

The sea is home to uninhabited islets at the centre of a festering row between Tokyo and Beijing. The Japanese government has long complained about China's routine dispatch of coast guard ships to waters surrounding the islands.

The presence of a naval convoy carrying out live fire drills in the East China Sea could anger Tokyo.

The Liaoning is a refurbished Cold War-era aircraft carrier that was bought from Ukraine and commissioned in 2012.

It has been on a high-visibility tour in recent weeks, carrying out a series of muscle-flexing drills accompanied by a flotilla of support ships, including destroyers.

Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping inspected the convoy as it conducted exercises in the disputed South China Sea.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich waterway, building an archipelago of artificial islands there capable of hosting military equipment, despite rival claims from several of its Southeast Asian neighbours.

The flotilla then held two separate drills last week in waters on either side of Taiwan, infuriating the government in Taipei.

China sees democratically-governed Taiwan as a renegade part of its territory to be brought back into the fold and has not ruled out reunification by force.

The Liaoning is the pride of China's rapidly expanding navy, with Beijing determined to become a major global naval power, particularly in the Pacific.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said China's first home-made carrier started moving from its berth on Monday as it prepares for its first sea trial, while a third, more advanced model is under construction in a Shanghai shipyard.

China's chief Pacific rival the United States currently boasts 11 operating aircraft carriers and two more currently under construction.