Taiwan shadows Chinese aircraft carrier group

TAIPEI • Taiwan has sent ships and aircraft to shadow a Chinese aircraft carrier group through the narrow Taiwan Strait, after Chinese President Xi Jinping offered his strongest warning against Taiwan separatism to date.

China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory and considers the self-ruled island to be a wayward province, which Mr Xi said on Tuesday would face the "punishment of history" for any attempt at separatism.

Taiwan's defence ministry said yesterday that the carrier group, led by China's sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, entered the waterway late on Tuesday, but kept on its western side.

By midday yesterday, it had left Taiwan's air defence identification zone heading south-west, the ministry said, adding that it looked like China was conducting drills.

Taiwan's military sent ships and aircraft to shadow the carrier group the entire way, but spotted nothing out of the ordinary and people in Taiwan should not be concerned, it added.

China's Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January, the Liaoning sailed twice through the Taiwan Strait in what China said was part of routine drills.

Taiwan says that China has ramped up military exercises around the island in the past year or so. The island is one of China's most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.

China's hostility towards Taiwan has risen since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China suspects that Ms Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Ms Tsai has said that she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office on Monday expressed anger at Taiwan Premier William Lai's description of the island as a sovereign independent country, calling it a "serious provocation" and denying that Taiwan was, or could ever be, independent.

China has also been infuriated by a law signed last week by United States President Donald Trump that encourages the US to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwanese counterparts, and vice versa.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong is in Taiwan this week, where he was set to speak at a business event in Taipei later yesterday with Ms Tsai.

Separately, China announced yesterday that a former ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Liu Jieyi, has been appointed head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office. Mr Liu, a veteran diplomat, has been deputy head of the office since October last year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Taiwan shadows Chinese aircraft carrier group'. Print Edition | Subscribe