Chuck Hagel to be first foreigner to visit Chinese aircraft carrier

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will visit the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning at the Yuchi Naval Base at Qingdao on Monday, a defense official said.

Hagel will be the first foreigner allowed on board, the official said, adding that the trip is happening because of a U.S. request.

"This is significant. One, because he will be the first foreign visitor they have allowed aboard. We requested this, and they agreed. And two, because this capital ship symbolizes for the (People's Liberation Army) their ambition to project naval power," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Hagel's visit suggests that U.S. efforts to encourage greater military-to-military ties with China are bearing some fruit. It also comes as China has deployed a huge force to aid in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane far from its territorial waters.

In late 2012, China announced that it had landed a fighter jet on the deck of the aircraft carrier for the first time.

The Liaoning will be able to carry 30 J-15 fighter planes and will have a crew of 2,000, according to a People's Daily Online report published when it completed its first sea trials in August 2011.

China bought the shell of the carrier, then called the Varyag, from Ukraine in 1998. Its construction began under the Soviet military before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

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