TAIPEI (AFP) – China’s only aircraft carrier has entered the Taiwan Strait in a highly symbolic show of strength, but Taiwan insisted Wednesday there was no need for panic even as tensions boil over the island’s diplomatic status.
Beijing has upped its military drills near the island in recent weeks after being incensed by a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen to US president-elect Donald Trump, and by a subsequent transit stop by Tsai in the US.
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be brought back into its fold. The US is the island’s most powerful ally and main arms supplier, despite having no official diplomatic relations since recognising Beijing in 1979.
The Liaoning aircraft carrier has not entered Taiwanese waters but has gone into an area covered by the island’s air defence zone, the defence ministry said.
Taiwanese media said the F-16 fighter jets and other aircraft were dispatched Tuesday night to monitor the Chinese carrier group. The defence ministry would not confirm those reports.
“The military is monitoring the whole situation and will act as necessary. We urge Taiwan’s people to be at ease,” it said in a statement.
“There is no need for us to overly panic,” said the chairwoman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which handles the island’s relationship with Beijing.
“The national security council has a good grasp of the situation. We are doing what is necessary,” Chang Hsiao-yueh told reporters at an end-of-year briefing.
“The government has sufficient capabilities to defend our country’s safety,” she added.
Experts have said the manoeuvres of the second-hand, Soviet-built Liaoning are “symbolic” rather than any real military threat.
The Liaoning has been carrying out its first exercise in the Pacific and already passed south of Taiwan last month.
It entered the southwest of Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) at 7am Wednesday local time (23:00 GMT), the defence ministry said, along with escort vessels.
By midday it was moving north along the mainland’s coast, the ministry said.
“There is currently no navy or air force activity out of the ordinary,” it added.