Three Chinese ships, including the Shandong aircraft carrier sail through Taiwan Strait

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Shandong

27th May 2023 – (Taipei) China’s military might was on display as three of its ships, including the Shandong aircraft carrier, sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday. The move, which experts described as “unusual,” came during a prolonged period of tensions between China and Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as its territory and has vowed to take it back, by force if necessary. Since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016, Beijing has been increasing its air and sea incursions around the island.

Taipei constantly monitors and announces the presence of Chinese warships, but an aircraft carrier passing through the 180km-wide (112 miles) Taiwan Strait has not been seen since March 2022. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence confirmed that “a People’s Liberation Army Navy flotilla of three ships, led by the Shandong aircraft carrier, passed through the Taiwan Strait around noon” today The flotilla went “to the west of the median line, heading northward,” referring to the unofficial border in the middle of the strait that separates the island from continental Asia.

The latest show of force from Beijing comes more than a month after China launched aerial and naval exercises around the island. During the April war games, Beijing simulated targeted strikes on Taiwan and encirclement of the island, including “sealing” it off. State media reported that dozens of planes had practiced an “aerial blockade.” The Shandong also participated in those exercises, with J15 fighter jets deployed from it, although it was not in the Strait but southeast of Taiwan.

The war games were a response to Tsai’s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in early April, an encounter that Beijing had warned would provoke strong countermeasures. Taiwan’s armed forces announced on Saturday that they have deployed air patrol aircraft, navy vessels, and land-based missile systems in response to the sail-through. The defense ministry said on Twitter that “we are closely monitoring their movements and will respond accordingly.”

In recent days, the island has seen an increased presence of Chinese ships and warplane incursions. The ministry reported that 33 warplanes and 10 vessels were detected in the 24 hours to 6am on 27th May. The day before, 11 vessels were near Taiwan’s waters. Steve Tsang, the director of the London-based SOAS China Institute, said that sailing the Shandong aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait was “very unusual,” but it fits into a general pattern of China trying to display its military might around Taiwan in the past six months to a year.

Tsang also said that the move displayed a lack of understanding of modern military warfare. In the modern era of powerful anti-ship missiles, it is puzzling why a very big ship would be sent into a relatively narrow strip of water with limited maneuverability. Tsang added that the sail-by was “a message.” China has notyet issued a statement on the passage through the Strait.

The last time the Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait was in March 2022, right before China’s Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden held a phone call. Before that, the carrier transited in December 2020, a day after a U.S. warship had passed through. The Shandong also made a sail-by in December 2019, weeks before Taiwanese voters went to the polls.