Liaoning aircraft carrier

Mainland carrier Liaoning and battle group enters Taiwan Strait

Taipei scrambles air force and navy to shadow flotilla until it leaves the region

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 4:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 11:34pm

A flotilla led by the mainland’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has entered the Taiwan Strait en route to Hong Kong in a symbolic show of strength amid worsening relations between Beijing and Taipei.

Taiwan’s military said it immediately scrambled jets and navy ships to shadow the movement of the PLA battle group as soon as it entered the Taiwan Strait on Saturday.

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The passage came just three days after the administration of US President Donald Trump approved a US$1.4 billion arms package for Taiwan, despite strong protest by the mainland, which considers the island a renegade Chinese province awaiting reunion with the mainland – by force, if necessary. Beijing has loudly protested against the planned sales, which still needs Congress’ approval in 30 days.

“The Liaoning carrier group ... entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (Adiz) at around 4pm on Saturday, moving southwest along the median line of the Taiwan Strait,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

The flotilla was expected to move out of Taiwan’s Adiz at about 8.30pm on Sunday, it added.

The ministry said the military dispatched warplanes and ships to “surveil and make necessary preparations for” the carrier group in line with the emergence regulations and would continue to “keep close watch of all the movements” of the Liaoning. “So far, no unusual move of the carrier was reported,” it said and urged the island’s public not to be panicked.

The battle group, which includes the destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan and the frigate Yantai plus a squadron of J-15 fighters and several helicopters, left its base in Qingdao in Shandong province on June 25, Xinhua reported. It is scheduled to make a five-day port call to Hong Kong on July 7 during a training mission reported to be in the East China Sea.

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Taiwan’s defence ministry has been on alert after the carrier was reported to be on yet another “training mission” after its first between late December and early January.

In the last mission, the Liaoning carried out an exercise that took them through the Miyako Strait northeast of Taiwan and southward on the high seas off Taiwan’s east coast the South China Sea.

On its way back to the mainland after its exercises in early January, the Liaoning sailed through the Taiwan Strait, in what Taiwanese lawmakers and military experts described as “completing a voyage circling Taiwan”. Taiwanese officials later described the voyage as a “menace” and “intimidation” of the island.