Taipei scrambles jets as Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning enters Taiwan Strait

Taipei clarifies that the Chinese warships did not sail into its territorial waters.

Taipei scrambles jets as Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning enters Taiwan Strait
J-15 fighters from China's Liaoning aircraft carrier conduct a drill in an area of South China Sea, January 2, 2017. Picture taken January 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mo Xiaoliang

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning entered the Taiwan Strait, forcing Taiwan to scramble fighter jets and navy ships on Wednesday. China's Soviet-built aircraft carrier was accompanied by several other warships as it sailed into Taiwan's air defence identification zone (ADIZ). Taipei clarified that the Chinese warships did not sail into its territorial waters, but the Chinese maneuver pointed to heightened tension in the region.

The military maneuver was part of the drills to test weapons and equipment in the South China Sea, Beijing said. However, it came after Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen made a visit to the United States where she met Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and the state's governor. China had asked the US not to let Tsai pass through the country on her way to southern American allies Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

F-16 fighter planes and navy vessels were ordered to watch over the Chinese fleet in the narrow waterway between Taiwan and China, Taiwan defence ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.

The Chinese troop carrier entered the southwest of Taiwanese air defence zone Wednesday morning local time, the defence ministry said. "(It) is sailing west of the midline of the Taiwan Strait, moving north," the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier in the weekend, a Chinese bomber had undertaken sorties around the disputed Spratly Island chain.

"I want to emphasise our government has sufficient capability to protect our national security. It's not necessary to overly panic ... On the other hand, any threats would not benefit cross-Strait ties," Chang Hsiao-yueh, minister for Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, said, according to Reuters.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be annexed to the mainland, if necessary by force, was riled by a phone conversation by Tsai with US President-elect Donald Trump in November.

Tsai Ing-wen reasserted in December the island's territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea despite Beijing glowering down on it over the phone call with Trump.

The leader re-asserted Taiwan's territorial claim over the Taiping Island, the largest island in the Spratly Islands. Tsai said Taiping, also known as Itu Aba, is "a major site for Taiwan to make substantive contributions to regional peace and stability."

Earlier China said Trump and Tsai undermined the One-China policy that China upholds and which had been agreed by the US and Taiwan.