The Chinese government has reportedly sent its only aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates mainland China from the nation of Taiwan. While no missiles have been launched yet, Taiwan launched fighter jets and maritime patrol aircraft in response.
As you may know, Taiwan has been governed separately from China since 1949 but is still considered to be part of the country by the Chinese government in Beijing. The U.S. has traditionally recognized as Beijing as the capital of all of China, including Taiwan, a strategy referred to as the “One China Policy.”
Taiwan’s current president Tsai Ing-wen leads a political party in favor of formal independence from China. That’s why U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s unprecedented telephone conversation with her ruffled feathers last month, and the reason a Chinese aircraft carrier sailing between China and Taiwan is being interpreted as saber-rattling.
The Taiwanese government indeed appears provoked, as its state-owned news agency Focus Taiwan reports the country’s Ministry of National Defense “has deployed F-16 and IDF fighter jets, P-3C surveillance aircraft, as well as Navy frigates, to closely follow the situation” hedging that that information was “neither confirmed nor denied by the ministry.”
The New York Times is citing Shanghai University of Political Science and Law naval affairs researcher Ni Lexiong who asserts that “China was using the aircraft carrier to send a symbolic warning to both Taiwan and the incoming Trump administration”:
It’s all connected. Since Trump won the election, his words and actions have touched China’s bottom line. I think this was directed at America and the Taiwanese authorities. The aircraft carrier was on training exercises after all, but on the other hand, choosing this route to return was a response to their provocations.
But the Times also heard from Euan Graham, the director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia who basically said that the Chinese carrier had to choose between two routes to return to its home port: it was either the Taiwan Strait, or a close pass with the Japanese islands. And Graham indicated that the Chinese government simply made the more practical and tactically logical choice.
Officially, China has stated the ship was simply commuting. The China News Agency cites Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin saying in translated remarks that “it is normal for the Liaoning ship to go to and from the Taiwan Strait during the training process and will not have any impact on cross-strait relations.”
The ship did make this journey once before, in 2013, which yielded a similar result: a few Taiwanese jets went into the air and nothing else happened according to Focus Taiwan. At that time the Liaoning stayed west of the Strait’s midline, closer to China, as it appears to be doing again today.
If it continues on its course, the ship and its escorts will apparently be clear of the strait by the end of the day.