BEIJING (Reuters) - China's first aircraft carrier will carry out drills in the Western Pacific, in what the navy called part of routine exercises, amid renewed tension over self-ruled Taiwan that Beijing claims as its own.
The navy said in a statement late on Saturday the Liaoning, along with its accompanying fleet, would conduct "exercises far out at sea", without giving details of the location or route, in what is likely its first blue-water drill far from home waters.
China's successful operation of the Liaoning is the first step in what state media and some military experts say will be the deployment of domestically built carriers by 2020.
It said it was monitoring whether the aircraft carrier would continue into the Bashi Channel, which lies between Taiwan and the Philippines, on its return.
The Japanese Defense Ministry said on Sunday evening that a Maritime Self Defense Force ship and a P3C patrol airplane had spotted six Chinese naval vessels including Liaoning travelling through the passage between Miyako and Okinawa and into the Pacific.
One Z-9 patrol helicopter that took off from a Chinese frigate flew near Miyako Island, prompting the scrambling of Japanese jet fighters, said the Japanese Defense Ministry.
China's military conducted its first ever live-fire drills using an aircraft carrier and fighters in the northeastern Bohai Sea close to the Korean peninsula this month, and has more recently been in the East China Sea.
They conducted aerial refuelling and air combat exercises on Thursday, the navy said.
The Western Pacific exercise comes amid new tension over self-ruled Taiwan, following U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's telephone call with the island's president that upset Beijing.
China's Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier has participated in previous military exercises, including some in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practised for decades.
Last December, the defence ministry confirmed China was building a second aircraft carrier but its launch date is unclear. The aircraft carrier programme is a state secret.