Taiwan urges calm as Chinese warship enters strait

Chinese aircraft carrier sails into Taiwan Strait amid increasing tensions between mainland and island territory.

Chinese warship
The Liaoning, a refitted Russian-made carrier, conducted its first live-fire exercise earlier this month [File: John Lee/EPA]

Taiwan has urged its citizens to remain calm after a Chinese aircraft carrier entered the Taiwan Strait in a highly symbolic show of strength.

Taiwan’s defence ministry reported on Wednesday that China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and accompanying naval vessels had gone into an area covered by the island’s air defence zone at 7:00am local time (23:00 GMT).

Taiwanese media said that F-16 fighter jets and other aircraft were dispatched to monitor the Chinese carrier group.

“The military is monitoring the whole situation and will act as necessary. We urge Taiwan’s people to be at ease,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

The Liaoning, a refitted Russian-made carrier, had its first live-fire exercise earlier this month in the Yellow Sea, the Bohai Sea and East China Sea.

By midday, the aircraft carrier was moving north along the mainland’s coast, the ministry added.

“There is no need for us to overly panic,” the chairwoman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which handles the island’s relationship with Beijing, said.

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China has increased its military drills near the island in recent weeks, after being incensed by a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, to US president-elect, Donald Trump, and by a subsequent transit stop by Tsai in the US.

It was the first such contact with Taiwan by a US president-elect or president since Jimmy Carter formally adopted the “one China” policy in 1979 and broke off formal diplomatic relations with the island.

The development comes while Tsai is visiting Nicaragua as part of a four-nation tour in Central America.

While the focus of her visit is to bolster ties with allies, her US stopovers are being closely watched with speculation she may make contact with Trump and his team. 

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Beijing, said this comes on a significant day, as China releases its white paper on how to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

“China has said there is nothing worrisome or intimidating about deploying the Liaoning, but Taiwan believes it is more than a threat,” he said.

McBride added that Tsai has been accused of failing to rein in those in Taiwan who have been calling for independence.

China has conflicting claims to parts of the South China Sea with Taiwan and several countries in Southeast Asia, and with Japan over an island chain in the East China Sea.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be brought back into its fold. The US is the island’s most powerful ally and main arms supplier, despite having no official diplomatic relations since recognising Beijing in 1979.

Source: News Agencies