China Says Its Aircraft Carrier Leaves Taiwan Strait

China’s Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier, returning from exercises in the disputed South China Sea, had “meticulously operated” during the navigation of the Strait, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy spokesman Liang Yang said, Reuters reported.

Taiwan said the carrier group did not pose a threat.

The Taiwan Strait’s passage and naval drills come at a time of heightened tension between the two sides, due to Beijing’s suspicion that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wants formal independence from China.

Taiwan had said the Chinese ships did not enter its territorial waters but did sail into its air defense identification zone.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949 when Mao Zedong’s Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Nationalists to the island.

Tensions between the two sides have played out in the strait several times since then, including when China conducted military exercises there in 1995 and 1996, prompting the United States to send warships to the waterway.

The Liaoning carrier group, “visiting the South China Sea to conduct cross-maritime region drills and tests, has passed through the Taiwan Strait and continues with its further duties,” Liang said in a short statement on the Defense Ministry’s website.

China has said the Liaoning was on an exercise to test weapons and equipment in the South China Sea and that its movements complied with international law.

The latest Chinese exercises have unnerved Beijing’s neighbors given the long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

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