A Chinese carrier group is exercising near Taiwan and such drills will become regular, China’s navy has announced, in a further escalation of tensions near the island that Beijing claims as its sovereign territory. Taiwan has complained of an increase in Chinese military activity near it in recent months, as China steps up efforts to assert its sovereignty over the democratically run island.
In a statement late on Monday, China’s navy said the carrier group, lead by the Liaoning, the country’s first aircraft carrier put into active service, was carrying out “routine” drills in the waters near Taiwan. The aim is to “enhance its capability to safeguard national sovereignty, safety and development interests”, it said. “Similar exercises will be conducted on a regular basis in the future,” the navy added, without elaborating.
China’s statement follows Taiwan’s Defence Ministry reporting a new incursion by China’s air force into the island’s air defence identification zone on Monday. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it had a “full grasp” of the situation in the air and at sea surrounding Taiwan and that it was “appropriately handling” the matter. Japan’s Defence Ministry said on Sunday that the Liaoning, accompanied by five escort ships, had transited through the Miyako Strait on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The latest drill comes just days after the visit of Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr and first lady Valerie Whipps. Whipps and his wife were accompanied by the US ambassador to Palau, John Hennessey-Niland, which angered Beijing.
Niland became the first sitting US top diplomat to travel to Taiwan in an official capacity since Washington cut formal ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979. China’s widely-read Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, noted the Nanchang, the first of a powerful new fleet of Type 055 destroyers that entered service last year, was part of the carrier group. “The combination of aircraft carriers and Type 055 large destroyers will become a standard configuration of Chinese aircraft carrier task groups in the future,” it added. The Liaoning and its sister ship the Shandong have carried out drills or sailed near Taiwan before.
In December 2019, shortly before presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan the Shandong sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, a move condemned by Taiwan as attempted intimidation. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a potential military flashpoint. China has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is overseeing a revamp of the island’s military, rolling out new equipment such as “carrier killer” stealth corvettes.
A recent Deutsche Welle media outlet report published on Monday said Taiwan’s army is “ill-prepared” for a potential Chinese attack. It quoted former Taiwanese Defence Minister Michael Tsai as saying that Taiwan “should strengthen its self-defence capabilities.” “We are facing a gigantic military threat,” he said.