BEIJING • Taiwan military jets scrambled to shadow a Chinese aircraft carrier passing through narrow waters separating the two sides en route to Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the former British colony's return to China.
The Liaoning fleet will be open to the public in Hong Kong and showcase the "military might" of the Chinese naval force, Xinhua cited China's People's Liberation Army Navy spokesman Yang Liang as saying. It is due to arrive on Friday, Hong Kong media said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping swore in Hong Kong's new leader last Saturday with a stark warning that Beijing will not tolerate any challenge to its authority in the divided city, in his strongest speech yet amid concerns over what some perceive as increased meddling by Beijing.
The Soviet-built Liaoning, whose home port is in northern China, entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone (ADIZ) last Saturday and was sailing just west of the middle of the Taiwan Strait yesterday, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Taiwan military jets and ships were deployed in response to monitor the fleet's passage, it said.
Nothing abnormal was detected as the Chinese battle group headed south-west and was expected to leave Taiwan's ADIZ by yesterday evening, the ministry said.
It was the third time that the Liaoning has sailed near self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, in recent months for what Beijing has said were routine drills, in December and again in January.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
China's attempt to show off its military might comes as it launched a new medium-to-long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft last month.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that the B-5002, launched last Monday at the South China Sea branch of the State Oceanic Administration, is the biggest and most well-equipped plane in the administration's surveillance fleet.
It is expected to be able to monitor and react to incidents across the whole of South China Sea, given its wingspan of some 30m and maximum range of 2,450km, the paper reported.
Maritime expert Collin Koh, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at the Nanyang Technological University, told SCMP that the B-5002 will enable Beijing to support surface patrols farther out at sea and for longer periods, noting that its current Y-12 light maritime surveillance planes are limited in range, endurance and payload.
Referring to the Malaysia Airlines plane that went missing in 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, he said: "Having this new plane will also give China a new flexibility to contribute to regional maritime security, such as in the event of an aeronautical disaster like the MH370."
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told SCMP that the B-5002 will allow China to monitor and safeguard its maritime interests in a way that will be deemed less threatening to its neighbours than deploying a warship to carry out surveillance in the South China Sea.
But Dr Koh said: "Even if the plane doesn't pose a direct threat to shipping or maritime safety, it would still put other claimants in regional maritime disputes on high alert."
Still, he said the new plane, which can operate in all weather and visibility conditions, will be a great boost for Beijing's maritime law enforcement agencies.
"The Chinese coast guard in particular, which has been at the forefront of the action in disputed waters, will receive much better aerial support," he told SCMP.