China commissions first-ever aircraft carrier into naval fleet

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao oversaw the carrier's entry into the fleet at an official ceremony in the Chinese port city of Dalian, according to reports by the state-sponsored Xinhua news agency. 

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"Today will be forever remembered as China's navy has entered an era of aircraft carrier," senior captain Zhang Zheng, the commanding officer of the newly minted warship, dubbed the Liaoning. 

Tuesday's commissioning marks the end of a years-long push by the People's Liberation Navy to develop and field an aircraft carrier in the waters of the Pacific. 

PLN officials did not provide details on the fighter jets China planned to deploy aboard the Liaoning, according to recent reports. 

But naval leaders noted the carrier would be able to stand up to the engine heat and jet blasts from whatever aircraft ends up on the carrier's deck, those reports state. 

"The delivery and commission of the Liaoning is just a small step of China's aircraft carrier program and there is a long way to go before we have a powerful navy," according to Zheng. 

Rebuilt from the Soviet warship the Varyag, the new carrier will be a key weapon in Beijing's maritime arsenal as regional powers begin to chafe at China's recent military aggressiveness along waterways in the Pacific. 

Various disputes between China, Japan, the Philippines and other Pacific nations have bubbled to the surface in recent months, most circulating around several island chains in the hotly contested South China Sea. 

Commercial vessels from those neighboring countries have complained of being harassed by Chinese naval ships patrolling those waters in recent years, further inflaming tensions. 

Chinese military expansion, particularly by its naval forces, has roiled regional powers and on more than one occasion spurred on tense confrontations between Beijing and its neighbors. 

In April, Beijing sent three warships to a section of the South China Sea, off the northwest coast of the Philippines, to support a Chinese fishing ship being detained by the Filipino navy.

Claiming territorial sovereignty over the coastal waters where the Chinese fishing vessel was detained, Manila has deployed an additional warship to the area. 

U.S. commanders from Pacific command ended up deploying an American warship to the area, as a way to defuse the standoff. 

Most recenrtly, Chinese defense minister Gen. Liang Guanglie threatened military action against Japan as both countries continue to wrangle over territorial rights to the disputed Diaoyutai Islands.