BEIJING (Reuters) - China's first aircraft carrier held its first sea trial on Wednesday morning, in a step likely to stoke patriotic pride at home and jitters abroad about Beijing's naval ambitions.
The long-awaited debut of the carrier, refitted from a former Soviet craft, marks only an initial step towards China's plans to build a carrier force that can project influence into the region, where seas are spanned by busy shipping lanes and thorny territorial disputes.
The carrier "left its shipyard in Dalian Port in northeast Liaoning province on Wednesday morning to start its first sea trial," said Xinhua, describing the trip as only a tentative trial run for the unfinished ship.
"Military sources said that the first sea trial was in line with the schedule of the carrier refitting project and would not take a long time," said the report.
"After returning from the sea trial, the aircraft carrier will continue refit and test work," said the report.
Last month, China's defence ministry China confirmed the government was refitting the old Soviet vessel, and sources told Reuters it was also building two of its own carriers.
The carrier plan is just one part of China's naval modernisation programme, which has forged ahead while other powers tighten their military budgets to cope with debt woes.
That growing Chinese naval reach is triggering regional jitters that have fed into longstanding territorial disputes, and could speed up military expansion across Asia.
In the past year, China has had run-ins at sea with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The incidents -- boat crashes and charges of territorial incursions -- have been minor, but the diplomatic reaction often heated.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Daniel Magnowski