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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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  • Fat_Man

    Testing. Testing. Testing.

  • Beauceron

    What are we going to do? Go to war with them?
    No thank you.
    Japan and SK and other east Asian countries are just going to have to get used to the new boss.

  • Disappeared4x

    China might have noticed what most Americans did not: “During the first week of January 2017, there were no American aircraft carriers deployed at sea anywhere in the world.”

  • Fun fact: Taiwan wanted to develop nuclear weapons during the Cold War to deter Communist China. The U.S. said NO, and it was forced to abandon its plans.

    • f1b0nacc1

      That could change very quickly….and should….

  • CapitalHawk

    China is just conducting “freedom of navigation” exercises. What are we getting so worked up about?

    • f1b0nacc1

      Through territory that they claim to be their own?

      • CapitalHawk

        I’m just comparing our “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea (SCS). You can’t do that in the SCS – territory that is 100% claimed by China – and then get the vapors when China does the same thing near Taiwan. Goose-Gander.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Huge difference. The US is arguing (as is most of the rest of the world) that ANYONE can go through the SCS, i.e. that it cannot be claimed. The Chinese, on the other hand, are arguing that the SCS is exclusively theirs. In a similar way, the Chinese are arguing that they already own Taiwan, while this is hardly a claim that is universally accepted.

          My point: the US cruises are done to dispute a claim of sovereignty that has no legal basis, while the Chinese cruises are a claim of sovereignty that has at best a dubious basis.

          • CapitalHawk

            Eh. Both sides are making their cruises in order to push their claims (sovereignty vs. freedom of navigation (i.e. not sovereign)). I agree that you are in the right based on the law of the sea, etc., but the Chinese obviously don’t agree with us. In any event, the Chinese likely view our cruises through the South China Sea as just as irritating as we view their cruises through the Taiwan Straight.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I suspect that even the Chinese acknowledge (privately) that our argument is the correct one, but they probably view it as irrelevant. International Law without some force behind it is a polite fiction for faculty lounges, and the ascendancy of that particular group is at an end.

          • CapitalHawk

            Yes. To paraphrase Stalin “International Law? How many divisions has it got?”

          • f1b0nacc1

            Perhaps the Pope knows?

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