The government yesterday warned that “the threat of our enemies is growing day by day,” as warships led by China’s sole aircraft carrier sailed toward the island province of Hainan through the South China Sea on a routine drill.
The drill comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan following President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) telephone call to US president-elect Donald Trump earlier this month, which upset Beijing.
“The threat of our enemies is growing day by day. We should always maintain our combat alertness,” Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) said.
“We need to strengthen the training [of our soldiers] so that they can not only survive in battle, but also destroy the enemy and accomplish the mission,” he added.
Feng made the remarks during a speech at a Ministry of National Defense event marking the promotion of senior military officers.
The Chinese warships rounded Taiwan, passing between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa, then through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines, the ministry said.
Beijing has given few details of what the Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier is up to, other than to say that it is on a routine exercise.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China seas that rattled Taiwan and Japan.
China said those exercises were also routine.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also have rival claims.
The Pentagon did not directly comment on the latest drill, but said that the US recognizes lawful use of sea and airspace in accordance with international law.
“We continue to closely monitor developments in the region. We do not have specific comments on China’s recent naval activities, but we continue to observe a range of ongoing Chinese military activity in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross told reporters.
The Liaoning was maintaining a southwest course toward Hainan, and not deeper into the disputed South China Sea near the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) near the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, said a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It is still heading southwest toward Hainan,” the official said.
The carrier had not sailed near Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島), the official said, adding that Taipei would continue to monitor its movements.
The Liaoning has taken part in previous exercises, including in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the US has practiced for decades.
In December last year, the ministry confirmed a Chinese program to build a second aircraft carrier, but its launch date is unknown.
Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report last year.
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