China aircraft carrier sails through Taiwan Strait raising alarm

The Shandong was accompanied by four other ships and led Taiwan to deploy aircraft and vessels to monitor the convoy.

The Shandong aircraft carrier, which was commissioned a year ago, sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait over the weekend [File: Li Gang/Xinhua via AP Photo]

An aircraft carrier group led by China’s newest carrier, the Shandong, sailed through the Taiwan Strait on its way to routine drills in the South China Sea, China’s navy said on Monday, after Taiwan mobilised its forces to monitor the convoy.

The Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait a day after a US warship passed through the same stretch of sea.

China’s navy said the Shandong and its accompanying ships had “smoothly” travelled through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Sunday, heading for exercises in the South China Sea, where China has made extensive territorial claims in the disputed waters.

The drills are part of “normal arrangements made in accordance with annual plans”, it said. “In the future, we will continue to organise similar operations based on training needs.”

The carrier’s move through the strait comes amid rising tension between China and Taiwan, which Beijing sees as part of its territory. The democratically ruled island says it has recorded almost daily incursions into its airspace by the Chinese armed forces in recent months.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said the Shandong was accompanied by four warships and had set out from the northern Chinese port of Dalian on Thursday. In a statement on its website, it said the convoy continued to move south.

Taiwan said it sent six warships and eight military aircraft to monitor the Chinese ships’ movements.

“The military has the confidence and ability to protect its homeland, ensure national security and maintain regional peace and stability,” the statement said.

The Shandong is China’s second carrier, and was formally commissioned almost exactly a year ago.

Since then, it has successfully completed tasks such as carrier-based aircraft take-off and landing and use of its weapons, the Chinese navy said.

“The combat capability of the formation system has been continuously improved in experimental training,” it added, referring to the group of warships which accompany the Shandong.

China has been working to hone its carrier operations but has little experience compared to the United States, which has operated integrated carrier battle groups with multiple vessels for decades.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies