China yesterday sailed an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, shadowed by a US destroyer, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said, just hours before the Chinese and US presidents were due to talk.
The source, who was not authorized to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the carrier Shandong sailed close to Kinmen County.
“Around 10:30am the CV-17 appeared around 30 nautical miles to the southwest of Kinmen, and was photographed by a passenger on a civilian flight,” the source said, referring to the Shandong’s official service number.
The USS Ralph Johnson, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, shadowed the carrier, which did not have aircraft on its deck and sailed north through the Strait, the source added.
Taiwan also sent warships to monitor the situation, the source said.
The Ministry of National Defense declined to comment, but said its forces always keep close tabs on Chinese activity in the Strait and “respond in accordance with standard procedures.”
US Navy spokesman Mark Langford said the Ralph Johnson “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit March 17 local time through international waters in accordance with international law.”
He did not elaborate.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) referred questions to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but said the Shandong has a “routine training schedule.”
“We should not associate this with the communication between the heads of state of China and the United States. You may think it is too sensitive. What is sensitive is you, not the Taiwan Strait,” Zhao told reporters in Beijing.
The sailing happened about 12 hours before US President Joe Biden was due to speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
The source described the timing of the Shandong’s movement so close to that call as “provocative,” and said it was unusual that the vessel sailed during daylight hours, with previous missions happening at night.
The Chinese navy in April last year said a carrier group, led by the Liaoning, the country’s first aircraft carrier put into active service, was carrying out routine drills near Taiwan.
The Shandong is China’s newest aircraft carrier, commissioned in 2019.
In December 2019, shortly before presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan, the Shandong sailed through the Strait, a move Taiwan condemned as attempted intimidation.
The air force scrambles aircraft almost daily to ward off Chinese warplanes flying into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, mostly in the southwestern part of the Strait near the South China Sea.
Taiwan calls this “gray zone” warfare activity, designed to test its responses and wear out its air force.
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