The Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong sailed through the politically sensitive Taiwan Strait on Friday, followed by a US destroyer, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters, just a few hours before the Chinese and American presidents hold a call.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory, and in the last two years has intensified its military activity near the democratically governed island to assert its sovereignty claims, alarming Taipei and Washington.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that The Shandong sailed near the Taiwan-controlled island of Kinmen, located just off the Chinese city of Xiamen, and was escorted by a US warship.
“At around 10:30 a.m., the CV-17 appeared about 30 nautical miles southwest of Kinmen, and was photographed by a passenger on a civilian flight,” the source said, referring to the official service number of the aircraft. Shandong.
The USS Ralph Johnson, an American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, followed the carrier, that it had no aircraft on its deck and sailed north through the strait, the source added.
Taiwan has also sent warships to monitor the situation, the source said.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment, but said its forces always closely monitor Chinese activity in the Taiwan Strait and “respond in accordance with standard procedures.”
US Navy spokesman Lt. Mark Langford said the destroyer Ralph Johnson had “conducted a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait on March 17 (local time) through international waters in accordance with international law.” He did not elaborate.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian referred questions to the country’s Defense Ministry, which did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, but said the Shandong has a “routine training program.”
“We should not associate this with the communication between the heads of state of China and the United States. They may think you are too sensitive. It is you who are sensitive, not the Taiwan Strait.” Zhao told reporters in Beijing.
The navigation came about 12 hours before US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are to hold a call on the war in ukraine.
The source described as “provocation” the moment chosen by the Shandong to carry out such a crossing before the call between the two leaders, and highlighted the unusual fact that it occurred during daytime hours, when the previous missions took place at night.
Last April, the Chinese navy said a carrier group led by the Liaoning, the country’s first aircraft carrier to enter active service, was conducting routine exercises in the waters near Taiwan.
Taiwan is already on a heightened state of alert due to the war in Ukraine, fearing that China may take advantage of the situation to make a move of its own. although there have been no signs that Beijing is about to launch any kind of military attack.
Lo Chih-cheng, a senior lawmaker from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party who sits on the Taiwanese parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee, called the Shandong crossing a a “very provocative message” when the countries of the region are already alarmed by the war in Europe and hours before the call between Biden and Xi.
“Tensions across the Taiwan Strait will not rise sharply because of this, but it will likely cause neighboring countries to raise their military alert level,” he told Reuters.
China claims that Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with the United States. Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taipei, but it is Taiwan’s most important international ally and arms supplier.
Taiwan rejects China’s claims of sovereignty and has repeatedly promised to defend its freedom and democracy.
The Shandong is China’s newest aircraft carrier, commissioned in 2019.
In December 2019, shortly before presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan, the Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait, a move condemned by the island country as an attempt at intimidation.
Taiwan’s air force also dispatches aircraft almost daily to scare off Chinese warplanes that stray into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, especially in the southwestern part of the strait, at the upper end of the Taiwan Sea. South China.
Taiwan calls this “grey zone” warfare, designed both to test its response and wear down the Taiwanese air force.
With information from Reuters
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