China's Navy will conduct a "routine" training drill in west Pacific international waters in mid- to late June, according to a press release issued Thursday by the Chinese Defense Ministry.
The news comes days after confirmation by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that China was building its first aircraft carrier. Gen. Chen Bingde, head of the PLA General Staff, wouldn't say when the aircraft carrier would be launched, although the vessel is thought to be nearly finished and could begin sea trials as early as this month.
"The carrier is now being built. It's not completed. When it is, we'll say more," the Hong Kong Commercial Daily quoted Chen as saying.
The 990-foot carrier — a remodeled Soviet-era vessel, the Varyag, according to the BBC — is reportedly being built in the north-east port of Dalian.
Although Chen gave the highest level confirmation yet of the ship's existence, the carrier program has been widely known for several years, according to the AP.
Writes the AP:
The aircraft carrier has come to symbolize China's ambitions for a military with global reach that ultimately may rival the U.S. Though the addition of one carrier to China's rapidly expanding navy isn't expected to threaten the U.S. military's dominance, an American admiral said in April that the vessel could feed perceptions of a shift in the balance of power.
An aide to Chen acknowledged the carrier's symbolic potency while playing down its strategic value. "All the great powers in the world, including those permanent members of the (U.N.) Security Council, all have them. The carrier is seemingly the mark of a great nation," the newspaper quoted Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo as saying.
Qi was quoted as saying that China's military strategy remained defensive and that Beijing "will not be like some other countries with carriers, sailing them toward other peoples"—an indirect jab at the U.S.
The Defense Ministry press release Thursday, meanwhile, said that the Pacific exercises were in line with relevant international laws and not targeted at any specific country, Xinhua reports. "This will be a regular drill according to the annual plan" of the PLA, it said.