Chi­nese air­craft carrier en­ters South China Sea

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A group of Chi­nese war­ships led by the coun­try’s sole air­craft carrier en­tered the top half of the South China Sea yes­ter­day 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. In­flu­en­tial state-run Chi­nese tabloid the Global Times said the ex­er­cise showed how the carrier was im­prov­ing its com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties and that it should now sail even fur­ther afield.

“The Chi­nese fleet will cruise to the Eastern Pa­cific sooner or later. When China’s air­craft carrier fleet ap­pears in off­shore ar­eas of the US one day, it will trig­ger in­tense think­ing about mar­itime rules,” the news­pa­per said in an edi­to­rial. China has been an­gered re­cently by US naval pa­trols near is­lands that China claims in the South China Sea. This month, a Chi­nese navy ship seized a US un­der­wa­ter drone in the South China Sea. China later re­turned it. Ja­pan said late on Sun­day it had spot­ted six Chi­nese naval ves­sels in­clud­ing the Liaon­ing trav­el­ling through the pas­sage be­tween Miyako and Ok­i­nawa and into the Pa­cific.

Ja­pan’s top gov­ern­ment spokesman said yes­ter­day the voy­age showed China’s ex­pand­ing mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity and Ja­pan was closely mon­i­tor­ing it. China’s air force con­ducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rat­tled Ja­pan and Tai­wan. China said those ex­er­cises were also rou­tine. Last De­cem­ber, the de­fence ministry con­firmed China was build­ing a sec­ond air­craft carrier but its launch date is un­clear. The air­craft carrier pro­gram is a state se­cret.

Beijing could build mul­ti­ple air­craft car­ri­ers over the next 15 years, the Pen­tagon said in a re­port last year. China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 tril­lion in ship­borne trade passes ev­ery year. Neigh­bors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Tai­wan and Viet­nam also have claims. —Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.