Asia Pacific

Beijing confirms new aircraft carrier sailed through Taiwan Strait on way to South China Sea

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

China’s navy acknowledged Monday that its first domestically built aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait a day earlier but said the move was not directed at any “specific target” and was instead part of “equipment tests and routine training” as it headed into the South China Sea.

A spokesman for the Chinese Navy said the sailing, part of ongoing sea trials, was a normal part of the process of building an aircraft carrier and had nothing to do with the current tensions between Beijing and Taipei, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

During a meeting between Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday in Bangkok, Wei told Esper that Beijing would stick to “peacefully resolving the Taiwan question, but will not tolerate a major ‘Taiwan secession’ event, and that the U.S. should handle the issue with care,” China’s state-run Global Times reported.


Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that the Chinese carrier and an accompanying battle group had passed through the sensitive area with U.S. and Japanese ships tailing it.

It said Taiwan had scrambled ships and jets to monitor the carrier group.

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet confirmed that one of its warships had conducted a transit of the Taiwan Strait on Sunday and Monday “in accordance with international law.”

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” spokeswoman Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Another navy official told The Japan Times that the U.S. ship interacted with various other ships, saying that “all interactions were safe and professional.”

A Self-Defense Forces spokesman said he had no information about the movement of the Chinese carrier or any Japanese ships nearby, Reuters reported.

Taiwanese media reports named the American and Japanese vessels as the USS Wayne E. Meyer guided-missile destroyer and the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Shimakaze, which is also a guided-missile destroyer.

The still unnamed Chinese carrier sailed through the waterway from the East China Sea into the strait.

The move came as Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen named former Prime Minister William Lai as her running mate for 2020 elections. Lai last year angered Beijing by voicing support for the island nation’s formal independence.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu wrote on Twitter that Beijing’s move was intended to intimidate Taipei ahead of the elections in January.

“Just as @iingwen names her running mate & the campaign shifts into high gear, #PLA sends its new … aircraft carrier battle group into the #TaiwanStrait,” Wu wrote. “#PRC intends to intervene in #Taiwan’s elections. Voters won’t be intimidated! They’ll say NO to #China at the ballot box.”

PRC is the acronym for China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwan, a democratically governed island, split from Communist Party-ruled mainland China after the civil war ended in 1949. Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary.

Beijing has called Taiwan “the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations” and has bolstered its military presence near the island, holding large-scale “encirclement” exercises and bomber training throughout last year and into this year.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Navy sent a warship through the waterway for the first time since September, with the Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture-based guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville conducting “a routine Taiwan Strait transit,” the navy said in a statement.

Chinese state-run media reported last week that the new aircraft carrier had left its shipyard in the city of Dalian for its ninth sea trial, where it might receive fighter jets before its official commissioning. The commissioning is expected soon, the reports said.