China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was open to the public for the first time this past weekend. The event took place in Hong Kong as part of the 20th anniversary marking the city’s handover to Chinese rule.
The Liaoning is making a five-day port call in Hong Kong that started on July 7, a week after Chinese president Xi Jinping toured the former British colony and warned against crossing a “red line” in challenging Beijing’s authority. The military allowed aboard 2,000 Hong Kongers who had previously lined up for tickets given out on a first-come, first-served basis. The visitors were asked to present their permanent ID cards, but were not charged an entry fee. A Chinese Navy spokesperson said earlier this month that the carrier’s visit is part of efforts to raise patriotism among Hong Kong people.
The Liaoning, once known as the Varyag, was built in a Ukrainian shipyard in the late 1980s. In 1998, after the fall of the Soviet Union, China bought the unfinished hulk of the carrier for $20 million through a middleman, who pretended to use the ship to set up a floating casino in Macau. (Beijing was concerned that buying the carrier would antagonize the US.)
Commissioned by the Chinese navy in 2012, the Liaoning was renamed after the northeastern Chinese province where it was refitted for over a decade. It can base 24 Shengyang J-15 fighter jets. (In April, China unveiled its second—and first domestically built—aircraft carrier, the Type001A, which has yet to be named.) It measures 300 meters (984 feet) long and weighs 60,000 metric tons (66,139 tons).
From designated areas guests could view the ship’s fighters, helicopters, and other carrier-based weapons. Here’s a selection of the Liaoning photos journalists captured from land and on board: