China Deploys Aircraft Carrier to Disputed South China Sea


Fighter jets on the deck of China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in the Bohai Sea, off China’s northeast coast, this month. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BEIJING — The Chinese military, in a move analysts described as a challenge to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s strident criticism of China, has deployed an aircraft carrier to patrol the contested South China Sea, officials said on Tuesday.

The ship, which is known as the Liaoning and is China’s first and only aircraft carrier, was spotted leading five other Chinese warships this week in patrols near the coasts of Taiwan and Japan. China claims the South China Sea as its own despite objections from neighboring countries and the United States.

Chinese military experts called the deployment of the Liaoning a long-overdue challenge to American military dominance in the Pacific. Several said the move appeared aimed at testing Mr. Trump, who has antagonized Beijing with acerbic words and actions on issues like Taiwan, trade and North Korea.

“The message is: ‘If you test our bottom line, we’ll play that game too,’” said Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

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The decision by Beijing to deploy the carrier group seemed likely to complicate an increasingly fractious relationship between China and the United States.

Nowhere are those tensions more on display than in the South China Sea, where American forces have resisted China’s efforts to build artificial islands and military outposts as part of its efforts to assert greater control over the sea, a major commercial waterway.