The Chinese have a history of decommissioning aircraft carriers. The Kiev and the Minsk, two Soviet ships sold to China in the 1990s, have been converted into a hotel and a theme park respectively.
Supposedly another Ukrainian aircraft carrier, the Varyag, was initially procured as a tourist attraction as well, although she later became the Liaoning, China’s first combat-ready carrier (see WiC250 for the story of its purchase and conversion).
The Soviet-era vessel was in Hong Kong this week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the territory’s return to Chinese rule. The port call had been arranged to inspire a little patriotism in the former British colony and it is the first time the carrier has opened its decks to the public.
To get one of the 2,000 visitor tickets, hundreds of curious Hongkongers stayed up overnight at a PLA depot last week. The tickets were free but the PLA was selling souvenirs of the visit, including models of the battleship and its J-15 fighter aircraft.
Scale models of the J-15 selling for HK$400 ($50) were the most popular souvenir and all the ship’s promotional items were sold out soon after the first group of visitors boarded on Saturday, the Global Times was delighted to report.
“It was worth it,” a Hongkonger told the newspaper, after spending HK$4,500 on souvenirs and waiting for nine hours to get his entry ticket.
China Daily notes that a further 2,000 VIPs also visited the ship during its five-day anchorage in Hong Kong. The Liaoning departed on Tuesday through the East Lamma channel, the same way that it had arrived. The China Daily points out that the boat was too big to pass through the city’s iconic Victoria Harbour, but three support vessels did sail through it on Tuesday “to salute the people of Hong Kong” before departing.
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