Various media outlets are reporting that a Chinese aircraft carrier group passed near Guam en route to maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and the disputed South China Sea.
The South China Morning Post reported that China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier strike group’s latest voyage began earlier this month, when the ships sailed through Japan’s Miyako Strait, then passed Guam and the Philippines before entering the disputed South China Sea.
The Taiwan News also reported that the Chinese carrier group had first approached Guam waters before rounding the Southern Philippines to enter the South China Sea, where it was expected to have visited recently militarized reefs and islands.
The Liaoning is the first aircraft carrier commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force. It was an unfinished Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998 and retrofitted before it entered service in 2012.
According to the South China Morning Post, the Liaoning aircraft carrier had five escorts when it passed near Guam.
The Liaoning’s passage near Guam comes as debate continues locally about Guam’s role in regional security and America’s national security. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has stated that she supports the buildup for primarily for security purposes.
The Liaoning carrier group’s voyage is seen by analysts as a desire by China to project its fast-growing maritime power into seas traditionally controlled by the U.S. Navy.
Specifically, China wants to use the carrier to project its power into the various Pacific islands near Guam which China considers as its “second island chain” of defense and where China has been trying to increase its presence through economic aid and investments.
The Chinese carrier is also being projected into the disputed South China Sea where the U.S. Navy constantly deploys to as part of its “freedom of navigation” exercises.
U.S. defense think tanks, however, believe that the Chinese Navy’s capabilities at this time still pale below that of the U.S. Navy. However, China is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar modernization program for its Navy and two more carriers are reportedly being commissioned.