Beijing — China's sole aircraft carrier anchored for the first time in the country's southernmost province of Hainan on Friday, in a move analysts said greatly enhances the Chinese navy's combat capability in the South China Sea.
The Liaoning will conduct tests and training after anchoring at a naval port in Sanya, a PLA Daily website said.
The website said the large harbour at Sanya was designed and built by the Chinese navy and has the facilities to dock a variety of large vessels.
Zhang Junshe, deputy director of the Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said, "With the harbour built at Sanya, China has greatly expanded the range of its carrier in the South China Sea."
He said the voyage to Sanya will help the Liaoning's crew to get accustomed to the vessel's second base, where conditions such as the water temperature and depth are quite different to those in Qingdao, Shandong province, its home port.
Aside from Qingdao, the headquarters of the North China Sea Fleet, and the carrier base in Sanya, the Liaoning has only docked at the Dalian shipyard where it was built.
Escorted by two missile destroyers and two missile frigates, the Liaoning left Qingdao on Tuesday.
Before reaching Sanya, the vessels operated at high speed, day and night, in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea and passed through the Taiwan Straits on Thursday.
It is the first time the carrier has embarked on a cross-sea training voyage since being commissioned into the People's Liberation Army navy last year.
The Liaoning made several training voyages earlier this year, but had never embarked on a training voyage of such length.
The carrier's captain, Zhang Zheng, has said that tests in the South China Sea will pave the way for future missions.
Although the Liaoning did not pass near the Diaoyu Islands, where tensions are running high between China and Japan, the United States and Japan sent warships to follow the Chinese vessel closely.
Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said on Thursday the Liaoning's mission in the South China Sea is not targeted at any country.
Yin Zhuo, director of the Chinese Navy Information Expert Committee, said the South China Sea is an ideal area for the carrier's training mission and for its escort group.
A voyage of at least several weeks and up to two months in heavy seas will be crucial for a comprehensive test of the carrier's equipment, he said.
Zhang Junshe said it is understandable that the US and Japan have paid great attention to China's new carrier, but they need to get used to its existence.
Li Jie, a senior researcher at the Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said the US and Japan have exaggerated the combat capability of the Liaoning for their own purposes, such as expanding their naval forces.
"To tell the truth, the Liaoning lags far behind the 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers in the US. The gap will widen when the USS Gerald R. Ford begins service in 2016," Li said.
He added that it does not make sense for Washington to be nervous about the Liaoning's "normal" training voyage, as the US has highly advanced carriers deployed in the region.