Asia Pacific

Taiwan scrambles jets as Chinese aircraft carrier passes through strait en route to Hong Kong

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Taiwan scrambled military jets Sunday as China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, passed through the 180-km-wide strait separating the two rivals while en route to Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Beijing.

Upon its arrival in Hong Kong, the Liaoning and its accompanying ships will be opened to the public, part of a bid to highlight China’s growing naval prowess, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted People’s Liberation Army Navy spokesperson Liang Yang as saying Sunday.

The PLA garrison in the city will also be open to the public.

The Liaoning’s visit will be the first port call by the carrier to the city.

The carrier, whose home port is in the northern Chinese city of Qingdao, entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) Saturday and was sailing just west of the middle of the Taiwan Strait on Sunday afternoon, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Taiwan military jets and ships were deployed to monitor the fleet’s passage, the statement added. The ministry said the carrier group was expected to leave Taiwan’s ADIZ by Sunday evening.

Xinhua said that the Liaoning flotilla consists of guided-missile destroyers and missile frigates, as well as J-15 fighter jets and helicopters.

Hong Kong media has reported that it will arrive in the city Friday, the 80th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War.

While U.S. warships, including aircraft carriers, have been known to make port calls in Hong Kong, such symbolic displays of military might by the Chinese Navy are a rarity.

The Liaoning, a refitted Soviet-era vessel, was commissioned by the navy in 2012. It carried out its first training drills in the western Pacific last December, when it cruised into the waterway between Okinawa and Miyakojima Island.

In April, to much fanfare, China launched its first homegrown aircraft carrier.