BEIJING, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- China invited a group of senior U.S. Navy officers to tour its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, even as tensions have escalated around Beijing's land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.
The U.S. delegation visited the Liaoning on Monday but China's Communist Party-controlled Global Times did not report their visit until Wednesday, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. The U.S. Navy did not make the visit public on its website.
The Chinese Navy, however, did make the visit known on its Sina Weibo social media account, and stated 27 representatives of the U.S. Navy boarded the Liaoning on Monday. According to Beijing, the two countries discussed carrier management, personnel training, medical treatment and aircraft carrier development strategy.
This is the first time a foreign navy commander has toured the Liaoning. In April 2014, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel toured the carrier as the first foreign envoy to do so, and Jonathan Greenert, a former U.S. Navy admiral, also has boarded the vessel.
China said the U.S. Navy commander was visiting as part of an annual bilateral exchange. The U.S. representatives visited China's naval academies; in February, 29 Chinese Navy delegates had visited the United States for a week.
Chinese Commander Zhang Junshe was quoted as saying the exchanges were important for building good faith needed to develop and improve bilateral military relations, and that the Chinese Navy showed with confidence it was capable of "transparency."
The Liaoning aircraft carrier has been part of China's fleet since 2012 and was retrofitted from the Soviet-made warship Varyag, the Asahi Shimbun reported.
China continues to build aircraft carriers, and according to an unidentified military source in Beijing, "The exterior of the hull" on a ship being built in Dalian, Liaoning province is to be finished by the end of 2015.