Taiwan casts nervous eye as mainland Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning sails near

The Liaoning and its escort of battleships enter Taiwan’s air defence zone after ending its first port call in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 10:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 10:46pm

Taiwan’s military is closely watching as a convoy accompanying mainland China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailed into the Taiwan Strait after leaving Hong Kong where it took part in the handover celebrations.

The carrier, which left Hong Kong at about noon on Tuesday, entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone at 2.40 am Wednesday, the island’s military said.

The apparent display of force after the carrier made its first port call in Hong Kong comes amid strained cross straits relations since President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took power last year.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement that the Liaoning strike group was moving northwest along the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

Hong Kong bids farewell to Chinese warships as Liaoning aircraft carrier ends maiden port call

Jets were scrambled and navy ships shadowed the movement of the carrier, the statement added.

The Liaoning also entered the Taiwan Strait earlier this month en route to Hong Kong for its five-day port call.

“We have conducted overall surveillance and made necessary preparations for [the Liaoning’s passage] in line with the emergency regulations.” the statement said.

Watch: China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier leaves Hong Kong

It added that the military would continue to keep a close watch on the strike group.

“So far, no unusual move of the carrier was reported,” it said without specifying when it expected the convoy to leave Taiwan’s air defence zone.

The convoy, which includes the destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan, the frigate Yantai, a squadron of J-15 fighters plus several helicopters, left its base in Qingdao in Shandong province on June 25.

It ­entered “first combat readiness” and launched a series of drills when it sailed into “certain sea area” on July 1, the military newspaper the PLA Daily reported, without specifying the exact location.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on July 1 the Liaoning had entered the island’s air defence zone then left the following day.

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More than 100 combat units took part in the PLA drills, including ­J-15 fighter jets, which took off from the flight deck and carried out air manoeuvres, according to the newspaper.

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

Lin Chong-pin, Taiwan’s former deputy defence minister, said he expected such voyages to continue.

“There is no doubt it will become routine for the Liaoning to continue sailing into the Taiwan Strait or near Taiwan in future.

“In fact, its repeated passages into the Taiwan Strait can be interpreted as silent intimidation of Taiwan and a silent protest against the United States.”

Lo Chih-cheng, a legislator with the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party who sits on Taiwan’s Foreign and National Defence Committee, believed the military manoeuvres were politically significant ahead of the Communist Party’s leadership reshuffle this autumn.

“Any military movements by China, including the Liaoning’s Hong Kong port call and exercises, have their political meaning, especially ahead of the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. In addition to isolating Taiwan internationally, the Liaoning’s passage into the Taiwan Strait obviously serves to step up military intimidation against the Tsai Ing-wen government in the hope that it would succumb to the pressure and accept the 1992 consensus.”

During the January drills, the Liaoning carried out an exercise that took them through the Miyako Strait northeast of Taiwan then south to Taiwan’s east coast and towards the South China Sea.

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

Beijing considers Taiwan to be a breakaway Chinese province subject to eventual unification, if necessary by force.