TAIPEI • Taiwan has warned that "the threat of our enemies is growing day by day", as Chinese warships led by the country's sole aircraft carrier sailed towards Hainan through the South China Sea on a routine drill.
After sailing south of Taiwan itself, the Liaoning aircraft carrier and five other warships on Monday passed the Taiwan-administered Dongsha Islands in the South China Sea also claimed by Beijing, according to Taiwan's Defence Ministry.
Taiwan has said the aircraft carrier skirted waters outside its eastern air defence identification zone.
The carrier was expected to arrive at a Chinese military base on the southern Chinese island of Hainan late yesterday, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said yesterday.
The drill comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan, which China claims as its own and says is ineligible for state-to-state relations, after US President-elect Donald Trump's phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this month upset Beijing.
"The threat of our enemies is growing day by day. We should always maintain our combat alertness," Taiwan Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan said at a promotion ceremony for generals.
"We need to strengthen the training (of our soldiers) so that they can not only survive in battle, but also destroy the enemy and accomplish the mission."
Chinese media had earlier reported that the Liaoning was headed for the Pacific on an exercise for the first time along with its escort ships.
It was the latest in a series of recent exercises staged by China, after its military aircraft passed near Taiwan on Dec 10 for the second time in less than a month.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7.2 trillion) in ship- borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
The Pentagon did not directly comment on the latest drill, but said the United States recognises the lawful use of sea and air space in accordance with international law.
"We continue to closely monitor developments in the region. We do not have specific comments on China's recent naval activities, but we continue to observe a range of ongoing Chinese military activity in the region," said Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross.
The Liaoning has taken part in previous exercises, including in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to that of the US.
Last December, China's Defence Ministry confirmed that it was building a second aircraft carrier, but its launch date is unclear. The aircraft carrier programme is a state secret. Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report last year.
Ties between Taiwan and China have turned frostier since Ms Tsai's election victory in January. Beijing has cut off official communication with her government after it refused to publicly accept the "one China" concept.
Under Taiwan's previous government, the two sides had stuck to the "1992 consensus", in which they agree that there is only one China without specifying which is its rightful representative.
China poses the main military threat to Taiwan. Beijing sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary - though the two sides have been ruled separately since 1949.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE