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China's first locally-made aircraft carrier transits Taiwan Strait

2019/11/17 20:34:44

File photo / Photo courtesy of China News Service

Taipei, Nov. 17 (CNA) China's first domestically-built aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the same day Taiwan's independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced its presidential ticket for the 2020 election.

The Chinese aircraft carrier, together with escort ships, entered the Taiwan Strait from the East China Sea and sailed southbound, a statement from Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) said on Sunday.

Military ships from the United States and Japan tailed the Chinese aircraft carrier, the MND said, without revealing further details.

Taiwan's Armed Forces fully monitored the Chinese aircraft carrier's movement to ensure national security as well as regional stability and peace, the ministry said.

The MND did not say whether the Chinese aircraft carrier is still in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait.

The transit by the Chinese warship, known as Type 002, came at a time when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced former Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德), who has called himself a "pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence," as her running mate for the 2020 election.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and has warned from time to time that it would use force if the island attempts to declare independence.

A security official told CNA that an attempt to influence Taiwan's presidential and legislative elections, which are set to be held on Jan. 11, 2020, could be one of the motives behind the transit.

China could also be trying to send a message to the United States as the U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is embarking on a four-nation Indo-Pacific tour, he said.

Aside from that, Beijing could also intend to apply military pressure to Hong Kong as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) instructed relevant government agencies earlier this month to "end violence and restore order" in the financial hub, he said.

The official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Beijing's strategy could cause a backlash as demonstrated by the tailing of USS Wayne E. Meyer, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer in the U.S. Navy.

The transit had more symbolic than military significance as the Type 002 is not yet battle-ready, he further said.

On the other hand, Lu Li-shih (呂禮詩), a former captain of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Navy corvette Xinjiang told CNA that the transit may be completely unrelated to the DPP's announcement of its presidential ticket.

China's military ships usually move to the warmer Hainan Province in the south for training during winter time, to avoid the freezing of ship deck which impedes training such as plane landing, Lu said.

That view was shared by Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a research fellow at the military-affiliated Institute for National Defense and Security Research.

"The transit was more of a test sail rather than a political signal," Su said.

The Type 002 is China's first domestically-built aircraft carrier after commissioning the Liaoning, a refitted Russian aircraft carrier, in 2012. It performed its 9th sea trial last week in the Bohai area, according to Chinese media.

(By Emerson Lim, Gu Chuan, Ye Su-ping and Matt Yu)
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