Asia's Game of Thrones
China Sails Aircraft Carrier Through Taiwan Strait

Following extensive drills in the South China Sea and a bomber’s flight over the disputed Spratly Islands, a Chinese aircraft carrier made another provocative move on Monday by sailing through the Taiwan Strait on its way home. Reuters:

Taiwan scrambled jets and navy ships on Wednesday as a group of Chinese warships, led by its sole aircraft carrier, sailed through the Taiwan Strait, the latest sign of heightened tension between Beijing and the self-ruled island.

China’s Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier, returning from exercises in the South China Sea, was not encroaching in Taiwan’s territorial waters but entered its air defense identification zone in the southwest, Taiwan’s defense ministry said.

As a result, Taiwan scrambled jets and navy ships to “surveil and control” the passage of the Chinese ships north through the body of water separating Taiwan and China, Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.

This is hardly the first time that China’s carrier fleet has passed through the western half of the Taiwan Strait; it most recently did so in November 2013. But as we noted yesterday, China has notably accelerated its aggressive moves in recent days. The Chinese passage through the strait came soon after Taiwan’s president stopped over in the United States, a trip that further enraged Beijing following her phone call with President-elect Donald Trump.

Taiwanese authorities seem to have handled the incident capably and are urging calm; the incident in itself is not likely to spark a major crisis. But the Taiwan maneuver is yet another data point showing that China is acting ever more brazenly to project power in its neighborhood, seemingly unfazed by the potential for pushback.

That calculation could change under Trump; at the very least, the next administration is likely to call out Chinese violations more forcefully. At his press conference today, the President-elect said that China was “[taking] total advantage of us in the South China Sea by building their massive fortress,” while Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, called China’s actions in the region “illegal” and noted China’s “willingness to act with abandon in the pursuit of its own goals.” Time will tell whether this tough talk is mere bluster: if its recent actions are any indication, China will be putting Trump’s resolve to the test very soon.

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