In a highly symbolic move, China today began carrying out sea trials for its first aircraft carrier. The 300-meter-long vessel sounded its horn three times before heading out to sea around the port of Dalian, where it has spent the decade since it was purchased from Ukraine being refurbished, according to reports from the state-run news agency. The trials are expected to be short, though no exact duration was given; the Wall Street Journal notes that vessels are barred from entering a nearby area until Sunday. Though China is far off from having a fully operational carrier group, this is "a milestone for them," an expert tells the New York Times.
Though China has said the carrier will only be used for "research, experiments, and training," its launch is likely to stoke fears about the country's rapidly modernizing military and expanding naval and air power. But Chinese military experts say China is more interested in enforcing its territorial claims and demonstrating its might to its neighbors than confronting the US, and US officials and experts acknowledge it will be many years before China has the three functional carriers it needs to be effective. Many experts believe a fighter force won't be deployed on the carrier until 2015 or later.