The military activity in the Taiwan Strait intensified on April 5, with China and the United States deploying their aircraft carriers in the waterway between Taiwan and mainland China.
The deployment of warships by the United States and China took place as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on April 5.
On April 3, the spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Mao Ning, issued a warning, stating that China would take strong measures to protect the integrity and sovereignty of its territory.
China’s Shandong aircraft carrier was spotted around 200 nautical miles East of Taiwan, while the USA’s Nimitz aircraft carrier was seen about 400 nautical miles off eastern Taiwan.
According to the Taiwanese defense ministry, a fleet of the People’s Liberation Army, led by the Shandong aircraft carrier, transited through the Bashi Channel, situated between Taiwan and the Philippines, before moving into the waters Southeast of Taiwan.
The Chinese aircraft carrier was en route to its first military exercise in the West Pacific. The Taiwanese ministry mentioned that no planes were seen taking off or landing on the carrier.
Taiwan’s defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng noted that it is uncertain if the Nimitz aircraft carrier was deployed due to the presence of the Shandong carrier. However, he acknowledged that Nimitz’s positioning could be related to Shandong’s activity in the area.
He also highlighted that Taiwanese defense forces were aware of the Shandong’s movements when it departed from its home port. Chiu also said that this was the carrier’s 21st mission.
Shandong Begins 1st Far Sea Drill In West Pacific
The Shandong is China’s second aircraft carrier, and it is notable for being the first carrier to be entirely built by its domestic shipbuilding industry.
The vessel was formally commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy on December 17, 2019, at a ceremony held in Sanya, a city in Hainan Province in southern China.
Chinese analysts argued that the voyage of the PLA Navy’s second aircraft carrier through the Bashi Channel signifies that the carrier is now fully capable of conducting operations in distant waters, thereby contributing to the protection of China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
According to a Chinese expert quoted in the Global Times, carrier groups should conduct training exercises in regions where actual battles may occur. This allows them to become familiar with the predetermined maritime battlefield environment and improves sailors’ combat readiness and psychological resilience.
The West Pacific waters to the East of Taiwan and South of Japan are strategically significant locations for surrounding Taiwan and preventing foreign military intervention in the Taiwan conflict.
This is why the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy has been conducting training exercises with its aircraft carriers in this area.
Over the past few years, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has conducted multiple high-intensity fighter jet drills in the West Pacific region. Currently, the Liaoning is undergoing maintenance.
Former PLA instructor Song Zhongping told the SCMP that the Shandong aircraft carrier’s training exercises in the West Pacific region are part of planned drills. It is normal for the carrier to operate in areas beyond coastal waters.
He added that the Shandong and Liaoning carriers might conduct joint training exercises to enhance their combat capabilities.
Zhongping stressed that deploying aircraft carriers near Taiwan serves a strong tactical purpose of combat value and is necessary to prevent Taiwanese ships and planes from traveling to other countries and regions.
He explained that this move could be a response to the meeting between the US Senate majority leader and Taiwan’s President.
The Taiwanese President’s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the third highest-ranking official in the United States, ensued despite repeated warnings from Beijing that such a meeting should not occur.
The latest meeting was the most high-profile meeting between an American official and the leader of the self-ruled island since McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, met Tsai in Taipei eight months ago.
Taiwan noted that the PLA increased its military drills in the region after Pelosi visited the island in August 2022. Taiwanese defense minister pointed out that as long as the weather is favorable, China can dispatch 10 to 20 warplane sorties on missions close to Taiwan daily.