A Ministry of National Defense official yesterday said that Chinese officials might send its sole aircraft carrier to cruise the Taiwan Strait during President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) nine-day overseas state visit to Central America, scheduled to begin on Saturday.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy carrier group — comprised of the ex-Soviet carrier Liaoning and its five escorts — is conducting maritime exercises in South China Sea, but it could engage in a show-of-force operation along the Taiwan Strait’s median line on its return voyage to China, an official said on condition of anonymity.
The Chinese aircraft carrier group sailed through waters east of Taiwan late last month, following several training missions conducted by the Chinese military that circled Taiwanese airspace over the past few months, causing regional tensions to flare.
If the Liaoning were to cruise along the median line it would be the first time it had done so with aircraft onboard, the official said, adding that its current complement of aircraft include at least 10 Shenyang J-15 fighter aircraft and an unknown number of Z-10 attack helicopters.
“Any exercise the Chinese carrier conducts involving J-15 flight operations will put aircraft at close proximity with our air interception zone and pose a significant threat to Taiwanese air defenses,” the official said.
In addition to the Chinese carrier, the group is suited for military intimidation because three out of its five escort warships are equipped with active phased array radars, which are significantly more advanced than the radars of other Chinese navy ships, the official said.
Despite resembling a US navy carrier strike group, the Chinese carrier group does not possess the former’s combat power, as its carrier and aircraft are not rated for nighttime flight operations, which is disadvantageous for the overall effectiveness of the carrier group, the official said.
The military is closely monitoring the movement of the Chinese carrier group and if it approaches the Taiwan Strait, the armed forces are to begin patrolling appropriate sea and air zones with maritime patrol aircraft, fighters and warships, and put ground-based missile batteries on alert, the official said.
Later yesterday, the Ministry of National Defense issued a statement saying it would not comment on speculation about the time or route of the Liaoning’s return to China, adding that the military is monitoring the carrier and prepared to respond appropriately to Chinese actions.