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Hagel tours China aircraft carrier

Qingdao (China), April 7: Defence secretary Chuck Hagel finally got a long-awaited look at China’s only aircraft carrier today, taking a two-hour tour of the vessel at a naval base near this port city that Pentagon officials said was the first such visit by a foreign defence official.

Accompanied by a handful of aides, Hagel toured the medical facilities, living quarters and flight control station of the Liaoning aircraft carrier in Qingdao, and took a walking tour of the flight deck to see launch stations and other apparatus devoted to getting China’s fighter jets into the air.

Hagel and other Obama administration officials have repeatedly called on the Chinese government to demonstrate more transparency, particularly in its military, whose budget has increased significantly even as the US cuts back on defence spending.

After Qingdao, Hagel flew to Beijing, where he was scheduled to hold talks tomorrow with his Chinese counterpart and to deliver a speech at China’s National Defence University.

Military officials accompanying Hagel said the visit to the ship was a big step in the fledgling military relationship between the US and China, two global powers that have been increasingly at loggerheads over what many American officials view as Beijing’s aggressive posture towards Japan and other neighbours.

But Hagel’s aides said that even if they received only a limited look at China’s maritime capability, they viewed the visit to the ship as one bright light in what could be an otherwise contentious trip.

“It’s always good to get aboard a ship,” Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press spokesman, told reporters after the tour. “It feels the same, it smells the same.”

Defence officials said that the Chinese carrier is significantly less advanced than its American counterparts, but they added that it can carry out the main function of an aircraft carrier — receiving and launching fighter planes.

Hagel arrived today in Qingdao, where China will host the Western Pacific Naval Symposium this month, a meeting of countries that border the Pacific Ocean that is held every two years. The WPNS, as it is known in naval circles, counts among its members the US, Australia, Chile, Canada and a number of Asian countries, including China and Japan.

 
 
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