Beijing: A group of Chinese warships led by the country’s sole aircraft carrier entered the top half of the South China Sea on Monday after passing south of Taiwan, the self-ruled island’s Defence Ministry said of what China has termed a routine exercise.
The move comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, ineligible for state-to-state relations, following US President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with the island’s president that upset Beijing.
The Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier has taken part in previous exercises, including some in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practised for decades.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the carrier, accompanied by five vessels, passed southeast of the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan, heading southwest.
The carrier group earlier passed 90 nautical miles south of Taiwan’s southernmost point via the Bashi Channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines.
“Staying vigilant and flexible has always been the normal method of maintaining airspace security,” said ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi, declining to say whether Taiwan fighter jets were scrambled or if submarines had been deployed.
Chen said the ministry was continuing to “monitor and grasp the situation”.
Senior Taiwan opposition Nationalist lawmaker Johnny Chiang said the Liaoning exercise was China’s signal to the United States that it has broken through the “first island chain”, an area that includes Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said people should not read too much into what the carrier was up to, as its movements were within the law.
“Our Liaoning should enjoy in accordance with the law freedom of navigation and overflight as set by international law, and we hope all sides can respect this right of China’s,” she told a daily news briefing.
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