China’s aircraft carrier sails by Taiwan as tensions rise


TAIPEI: Taiwan said on Wednesday it had scrambled jets and sent ships to track a Chinese aircraft carrier which passed through the Taiwan Strait as Beijing’s leader gave the island a fierce warning against separatism.

The Liaoning and accompanying vessels entered Taiwan’s air defense zone on Tuesday, the same day Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a blistering nationalistic speech— warning against what he called any attempts to split China.

“All acts and tricks to separate the country are doomed to fail and will be condemned by the people and punished by history,” Xi said in a speech ending the annual session of the National People’s Congress.

China, which sees self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, has stepped up air and naval patrols around the island since Beijing-skeptic President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in May 2016.

She refuses publicly to accept the “One China” formula agreed between Beijing and Taiwan’s previous government.

Chinese warplanes conducted 25 drills around Taiwan between August 2016 and mid-December last year, according to Taipei.

The Liaoning, China’s sole operational aircraft carrier, left around noon on Wednesday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said.

The Soviet-built ship caused a stir in Taiwan when it first entered the strait in January last year in what was seen as a show of strength by Beijing.

It sailed past Taiwan again last July en route to Hong Kong and returned in January this year.

Taipei’s defense ministry said no unusual activities by the carrier group had been spotted “and we urge the public to rest assured.”

China still sees Taiwan as its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war and have been ruled separately ever since.

The carrier’s latest voyage came days after President Donald Trump signed new rules allowing top-level US officials to travel to Taiwan.

An irked Beijing has called on Washington to “correct its mistake.”

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong is currently visiting the island and will speak at a business dinner alongside President Tsai later Wednesday.

China’s foreign ministry said it had lodged an official protest with Washington over Wong’s visit.

“We urge the United States to abide by the One China principle,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing in Beijing.

She called on the US to “stop any form of official exchanges and contacts with Taiwan, and prudently and properly handle Taiwan-related issues, so as to avoid serious damage to Sino-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”



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