WASHINGTON - A satellite image of China's first aircraft carrier has been captured while the vessel was undergoing sea trials in the Yellow Sea, a U.S. company said on its website Dec. 15.
THIS SATELLITE IMAGE from the DigitalGlobe Analysis Center shows the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag during its second sea trial in the Yellow Sea, approximately 100 kilometers south-southeast of the port of Dalian. (AFP Photo / DigitalGlobe)
The 300-meter (990-foot) ship, a refitted former Soviet carrier, was photographed on December 8, said Colorado-based DigitalGlobe Inc., and an analyst from the company spotted it when reviewing images five days later.
The ship underwent five days of trials in August that sparked international concern about China's widening naval reach amid growing regional tensions over maritime disputes and a U.S. campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power.The Beijing government said earlier this month that the carrier had started its second sea trial after undergoing refurbishment and testing.
The South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas and is claimed by several countries, has dominated such disputes involving China, leading to run-ins with rival claimants including Vietnam and the Philippines.
Chinese President Hu Jintao on December 7 urged the navy to "accelerate its transformation and modernization" and "make extended preparations for military combat" to safeguard national security.
Beijing only confirmed this year that it was revamping the Soviet ship, the Varyag, and has repeatedly insisted that the carrier poses no threat to its neighbors and will be used mainly for training and research purposes.
But the August sea trials were met with concern from regional powers including Japan and the United States, which called on Beijing to explain why it needs an aircraft carrier.
China only provided the first official acknowledgment of the carrier in June when Chen Bingde, the nation's top military official, gave an interview to a Hong Kong newspaper.
The Chinese have yet to announce a name for the ship, which is commonly referred to by its old Soviet name. Although some media have used the name Shi Lang - a 17th century admiral who led a Chinese conquest of Taiwan - Chinese media often omit a name reference.
Coincidentally, the Varyag's sistership, the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, is also at sea - the first time both ships have been under way on their own power at the same time.
The Kuznetsov left its Northern Fleet base in Murmansk earlier this month for a three-month cruise to the eastern Mediterranean, where it may call at the Syrian port of Tartus. The carrier was reported off Scotland earlier this week. ■
Staff writer Christopher P. Cavas contributed to this report.