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China's huge Liaoning aircraft carrier sails into Hong Kong

Beijing has used its aircraft carrier's maiden voyage to tighten its grip over Hong Kong. Concerns about democracy have been raised on the 20th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China.

Hong Kong has traditionally been more used to hosting US warships, but on Friday morning Beijing's first operational aircraft carrier, known as the Liaoning, cruised into the city's harbor.

The Liaoning's maiden voyage into Hong Kong was part of a series of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China, but it also served as marked display of China's military might in a region where political dissent was once overlooked by Beijing.

Read more: Hong Kong's 20 years under Chinese rule – A failed project?

Thousands of Hong Kong residents queued to witness the Liaoning - with jet fighters and helicopters parked on its deck and hundreds of crew members clad in pristine white uniforms - steam through the city's East Lamma Channel. 

"I think Liaoning's visit definitely gives the central government a chance to display its military power," Sean Moran, a tourist from the US, said. "It's quite a positive and smart strategy to step up publicity overall."

The 305 meter-long carrier, once a Soviet-era navy ship, has attracted a significant degree of fanfare, with hundreds of people queuing overnight in a bid to snatch up one of the just 2,000 tickets available for a public tour of the ship.

However, those who did manage to grab a ticket have been ordered not to bring any cameras onboard, while the event is also closed to any foreign press.

Meanwhile, US consulate officials told the Reuters news agency that they had yet to be invited onto the carrier.

The Liaoning's most recent drill the previous weekend saw it carry out operations in the Taiwan Strait, heightening tensions with Taiwan. The island traditionally sees itself as autonomous – a concept that does not chime well with Beijing.

One country. Two systems?

The Liaoning's voyage into Hong Kong is Beijing's latest display of might over the semi-autonomous island, and comes less than a week after Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a heated 30-minute speech on his first visit to the island as leader. He warned that any challenge to Beijing's authority would cross a "red line."

Read more: Sieren's China: Learning from Hong Kong

The city also played host to a grandiose military parade, where arrays of helicopters and armored vehicles were all on display.

In what's know as the "one country, two systems" guarantee, Hong Kong was guaranteed to keep its political and economic independence for a further 50 years following the 1997 handover agreement. However, Beijing has appeared in recent years to be casting aside those assurances by cracking down on independence protests and forcing local leaders to pledge their allegiance to China's Communist Party.

Watch video 03:32

'We've seen 20 years of deterioration'

dm/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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