CHINA AIRCRAFT CARRIER ENTERS TAIWAN STRAIT

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

Rene­gade prov­ince

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.

—AFP

Tai­wanese sol­diers work next to a frigate can­non at Keelung naval base in Taiwan.

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