BEIJING - China's first aircraft carrier left Tuesday on a training mission to the South China Sea, escorted by missile destroyers and frigates, state media said.
The newly-commissioned Liaoning left its home port of Qingdao accompanied by two missile destroyers, the Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, and two missile frigates, the Yantai and Weifang, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The deployment comes amid heightened tensions between China and its neighbours over disputed waters, with Beijing declaring air defence rights over islands controlled by Japan at the weekend, provoking a furious international reaction.
Beijing took effective control of Scarborough shoal, claimed by Manila and just 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Philippines, last year.
It keeps up nearly daily pressure in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety and where Vietnam and others have competing claims to some of the islets.
China's vessels also frequently patrol near the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Tokyo, which controls them, and in China as Diaoyu.
The Liaoning's latest mission is to test the equipment it carries and is "a normal arrangement in the carrier's scheduled training", Xinhua said, citing Chinese navy authorities.
The carrier is a refurbished vessel purchased from Ukraine. It went into service in September 2012, and top naval commanders have promised the country will have more such ships.