Taiwan's F-16 fighter jets (CNA file photo)
Taipei, Jan. 11 (CNA) The Ministry of National Defense (MND) said it is closely monitoring the Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, which entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) from the southwest Wednesday morning and has since continued to sail north in the Taiwan Strait.
The Liaoning and its escort vessels were apparently on their way back to its base in northeastern China from the South China Sea after training exercises.
In response, the MND has deployed F-16 and IDF fighter jets, P-3C surveillance aircraft, as well as Navy frigates, to closely follow the situation, according to sources, information that was neither confirmed nor denied by the ministry.
The Liaoning entered Taiwan's ADIZ from the southwest at 7 a.m. Wednesday and sailed north, remaining west of the median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to MND, which said it is closely monitoring the movements of the Chinese warships.
The Chinese aircraft carrier passed through waters off Shantou in the southeastern Chinese province of Guangdong at noon and continued to sail north, the ministry said, adding that it will continue to monitor the situation.
The Liaoning is expected to leave the Taiwan Strait in about 10 hours, sources said.
In response, Taiwanese lawmakers across party lines saw the incident, which occurs amid strained cross-strait ties, as China's warning to Taiwan.
Lawmaker Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who co-chairs the Legislature's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, said it is a warning sign sent by China aimed at intimidating Taiwan, and described it as a move that undermines peace and stability in the region.
In response to questions by reporters on the issue, he said it was more of a "diplomatic intimidation" than an actual military threat, noting that the MND has stayed on top of the situation.
The incident came as President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is visiting four of Taiwan's Central American allies in an effort to consolidate bilateral ties, after the small West African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan on Dec. 20, 2016 and later resumed official ties with China.
Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應), another DPP lawmaker, who also serves on the committee, said there is no need to over-interpret China's action, noting that the aircraft carrier was not conducting any drill as it was sailing north through the Taiwan Strait.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Chiang Chi-chen (江啟臣) of the Kuomintang said it was apparently a warning signal sent by China to Taiwan, as the heightened tension in the strait continues.
Commenting on the incident, military expert Erich Shih (施孝瑋) said that to some extent, China is "making a political statement" that it has the ability to put pressure on Taiwan whenever it wants to.
Shih, however, said he did not see it as "a provocative" move by China. Sailing through the Taiwan Strait saves a lot of time compared with sailing via the Pacific Ocean, he explained.
Meanwhile, sailing through the Taiwan Strait makes it easier for China's air force and navy to better protect the fleet, he added.
Asked how Taiwan's military should respond, Shih noted the need for a calm attitude and urged Taiwan's military to beef up efforts to improve its combat readiness in the face of China's continued modernization of its armed forces.
The Liaoning and its escorting vessels sailed south in the Pacific off Taiwan's eastern coast on Christmas Day before entering the South China Sea.
In November 2013, the aircraft carrier transited the Taiwan Strait for the first time after its commission in September 2012.
(By Lu Hsin-hui, Lee Shu-hua and Elaine Hou)