SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China has carried out its first successful landing of a fighter jet on its first aircraft carrier, state media said on Sunday, a symbolically significant development as Asian neighbors fret about the world’s most populous country’s military ambitions.
The home-built J-15 fighter jet took off from and landed on the Liaoning, a reconditioned Soviet-era vessel from Ukraine which only came into service in September this year.
China ushered in a new generation of leaders this month at the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, with outgoing President Hu Jintao making a pointed reference to strengthening China’s naval forces, protecting maritime interests and the need to “win local war”.
China is embroiled in disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam over South China Sea islands believed to be surrounded by waters rich in natural gas. It has a similar dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.
It has also warned the United States, with President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, not to get involved.
“We should make active planning for the use of military forces in peacetime, expand and intensify military preparedness, and enhance the capability to accomplish a wide range of military tasks, the most important of which is to win local war in an information age,” Hu said.
China has advertised its long-term military ambitions with shows of new hardware, including its first test flight of a stealth fighter jet in early 2011, an elite helicopter unit and the launch of the aircraft carrier.
China is boosting military spending by 11.2 percent this year, bringing official outlays on the People’s Liberation Army to 670.3 billion yuan ($100 billion) for 2012, after a 12.7 percent increase last year and a near-unbroken string of double-digit rises across two decades.
Beijing’s public budget is widely thought by foreign experts to undercount its real spending on military modernization, which has drawn repeated calls from the United States for China to share more about its intentions.
China’s state-run Xinhua news portal said the J-15 - which can carry multi-type anti-ship, air-to-air, and air-to-ground missiles - is comparable to the Russian Su-33 jet and the U.S. F-18. It did not say when the landing on the carrier took place.
Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie