China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier was officially commissioned by supreme leader Xi Jinping on Dec. 17.
The new warship will be called the Shandong. The communist nation’s first carrier, the Soviet-built Liaoning, was commissioned in September 2012.
The Shandong is expected to be deployed to Sanya, the southernmost city on Hainan Island.
Deploying the new carrier to Sanya is intended to deter independence-leaning forces in Taiwan, a military source told the South China Morning Post.
“That’s why the carrier had been sailing through the Taiwan Strait on its way to Sanya last month,” the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, said.
Related: China’s second carrier departs Dalian, transits Taiwan Strait, November 19, 2019
Analysts said the story was intended as a threat to Taiwan.
Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that must eventually be reunited with the mainland – by force if necessary.
Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping told the South China Morning Post that “The South China Sea offers ample scope for Chinese aircraft carriers to show their capabilities. It is also the area where the PLA needs to prepare for military struggles.”
Song added that China’s two aircraft carriers would be under the command of the PLA Navy headquarters, rather than the Northern and Southern Theatre Commands.
But the Shandong “might be placed under the Southern Theatre Command for joint operations in the event of war in the South China Sea,” Song said.
On Monday, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono accused China of engaging in unilateral and coercive attempts to alter the status quo in the East and South China seas – where China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
Kono said Japan was “also concerned about China’s rapid enhancement of its military power without transparency, including its nuclear and missile capabilities.”
Military analysts described the Shandong as a modified version of the Kuznetsov-class design that features upgraded radar and bridge systems and a ski-jump deck for take-offs.
The ship will be able to carry 36 J-15 fighter jets compared with the Liaoning’s capacity of 24.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said that in total the vessel would be able to carry 40 aircraft, including Z-9 helicopters and KJ-600 early warning planes.