CHINA AIRCRAFT CARRIER ENTERS TAIWAN STRAIT
TAIPEI— Taiwan scrambled jets and Navy ships on Wednesday as a group of Chinese warships led by China’s sole aircraft carrier sailed north through the Taiwan Strait, the latest sign of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei.
The Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier, returning from exercises in the South China Sea, was not trespassing in Taiwan’s territorial waters but entered its air defense identification zone (Adiz) in the southwest, Taiwan’s defense ministry said.
As a result, Taiwan scrambled jets and Navy ships to “surveil and control” the passage of the Chinese ships through the narrow body of water separating Taiwan and China.
“We have full grasp of its movements,” said Taiwan defense ministry spokesperson Chen Chung-chi.
Taiwanese military aircraft and ships have been deployed to follow the carrier group, which is sailing up the west side of the median line of the strait, Chen said.
Taiwanese media said the F-16 fighter jets and other aircraft were dispatched on Tuesday night to monitor the Chinese carrier group.
The defense ministry would not confirm those reports.
‘No need to overly panic’
“The military is monitoring the whole situation and will act as necessary. We urge Taiwan’s people to be at ease,” the ministry said in a statement.
“There is no need for us to overly panic,” said the head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which handles the island’s relationship with Beijing.
“The National Security Council has a good grasp of the situation. Weare doing what is necessary,” Chang Hsiao-yueh told reporters at an end-ofyear briefing.
“The government has sufficient capabilities to defend our country’s safety,” she added.
China has said the Liaoning aircraft carrier was on drills to test weapons and equipment in the disputed South China Sea and its movements comply with international law.
Experts have said the maneuvers of the Liaoning are “symbolic” rather than any real military threat.
The Liaoning has been carrying out its first exercises in the Pacific and already passed south of Taiwan last month.
The aircraft carrier entered the southwest of Taiwan’s Adiz at 7 a.m. Wednesday local time, along with escort vessels, the defense ministry said.
By midday, the Liaoning was moving north along the mainland’s coast, the min- istry said.
“There is currently no Navy or Air Force activity out of the ordinary,” it added.
The latest Chinese naval exercises have unnerved Beijing’s neighbors, especially self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, given long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters 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.
China flew an H-6 strategic bomber flew around the Spratly Islands at the weekend in a new show of force in the contested waters, a US official said on Tuesday.
It was the second such flight by a Chinese bomber in the South China Sea this year. The first was on Jan. 1, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The flight could be seen as a show of “strategic force” by the Chinese, the official said.
Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesperson, said he had no specific comment on China’s bomber activities, but added: “We continue to observe a range of ongoing Chinese military activity in the region.”
China distrusts Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and has stepped up pressure on her following a protocolbreaking, congratulatory telephone call between her and US President-elect Donald Trump last month.
Beijing suspects Tsai wants to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for the mainland, which has never renounced the use of force to bring what it deems a renegade province under its control.
Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China.
The Liaoning set off for the Western Pacific last month, passing through the Miyako Strait, south of Okinawa, and then the Bashi Channel separating Taiwan from the Philippines as it entered the South China Sea.
Japanese and Taiwanese surveillance aircraft and ships closely monitored the Liaoning along its journey, seen by some as a sign of how China plans to use the carrier to demonstrate its willingness to back up its territorial claims with military muscle.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.
Taiwanese soldiers work next to a frigate cannon at Keelung naval base in Taiwan.