The Chinese military launched its first aircraft carrier Wednesday on its maiden trial voyage, a key step in the Asian giant's plans to develop a blue-water navy.
The first ever voyage of a Chinese carrier will heighten concern about the country's military spending and its intentions in potential flash points like Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The 300-meter (990-foot) ship, an old Soviet carrier which Beijing bought from Ukraine in 1998, set sail from the port city of Dalian after an extensive refit.
"According to trial plans, the first sea trial will not take long," the defense ministry said in a statement, The Financial Times reported.
"After returning to the shipyard, the carrier will continue its refit and test work."
Beijing says the carrier will be used for training and "research", and analysts believe its military value will be mainly as an emblem of the nation's expanding economic and military might.
"Its symbolic significance outweighs its practical significance," Ni Lexiong, an expert on Chinese maritime policy, told Reuters.
"We're already a maritime power, and so we need an appropriate force, whether that's aircraft carriers or battleships, just like the United States or the British empire did," he said in a telephone interview.
But military experts note that China lacks trained seamen to crew an aircraft carrier. An effective carrier group would have at least three carriers and an array of support craft which Beijing lacks, they add.
The United States has 11 carriers and is the only country with more than two in service.