A Chinese naval flotilla led by an aircraft carrier reportedly sailed through the Miyako Strait and headed toward the Pacific Ocean, prompting Chinese military experts to say on Sunday that the fleet demonstrated success in novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic control work.
The Chinese flotilla, consisting of the Liaoning aircraft carrier, two Type 052D guided missile destroyers, two Type 054A guided missile frigates and one Type 901 auxiliary supply ship, was spotted during transit through the Miyako Strait on Friday evening, according to a statement the Japanese Defense Ministry publicly released on Saturday.
The Chinese warships were headed in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, the statement said.
In line with the Japanese report, media on the island of Taiwan reported Saturday that the Liaoning carrier group was spotted in waters east of the island.
The Chinese mainland military has yet to announce the operation.
There was nothing strange about the Liaoning and other warships reportedly conducting regular routine exercises on Friday, Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times on Sunday.
This was not the first time the Liaoning has passed through the Miyako Strait into the Pacific Ocean. Similar voyages took place in June 2019 and December 2016, according to reports.
China's aircraft carriers would more frequently cross sea lanes, including the Miyako Strait, for deployment in the west Pacific and Indian oceans, according to an article published by Xiakedao, the official WeChat account operated by the overseas edition of the People's Daily, in June 2019. Such operations would become standard practice, the article said.
Chinese analysts noted on Sunday that the Liaoning carrier group voyage came at a time when many foreign aircraft carriers were hit by COVID-19, rendering them unsuitable for deployment.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Carl Vinson and Nimitz aircraft carriers all reported positive COVID-19 cases, media reports have said. The nuclear-powered flagship of the French navy, the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, also reportedly has crew members who tested positive.
Through the voyage, the Liaoning showed that the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has done a great job in the epidemic prevention and control work and COVID-19 epidemic has not had an impact on its deployment and operations, Xu said.
"It showed that the PLA can dispatch troops stationed anywhere at any time, with the troops always maintaining vigorous combat capabilities," Xu said, "The Chinese people can always count on them."