An aircraft carrier group led by China’s newest carrier, the Shandong, sailed through the Taiwan Strait on its way to routine drills in the South China Sea, China’s navy said on Monday, after Taiwan mobilised its forces to monitor the convoy.
The Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait a day after a US warship passed through the same stretch of sea.
China’s navy said the Shandong and its accompanying ships had “smoothly” travelled through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Sunday, heading for exercises in the South China Sea, where China has made extensive territorial claims in the disputed waters.
The drills are part of “normal arrangements made in accordance with annual plans”, it said. “In the future, we will continue to organise similar operations based on training needs.”
The carrier’s move through the strait comes amid rising tension between China and Taiwan, which Beijing sees as part of its territory. The democratically ruled island says it has recorded almost daily incursions into its airspace by the Chinese armed forces in recent months.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said the Shandong was accompanied by four warships and had set out from the northern Chinese port of Dalian on Thursday. In a statement on its website, it said the convoy continued to move south.
Taiwan said it sent six warships and eight military aircraft to monitor the Chinese ships’ movements.
“The military has the confidence and ability to protect its homeland, ensure national security and maintain regional peace and stability,” the statement said.
The Shandong is China’s second carrier, and was formally commissioned almost exactly a year ago.
Since then, it has successfully completed tasks such as carrier-based aircraft take-off and landing and use of its weapons, the Chinese navy said.
“The combat capability of the formation system has been continuously improved in experimental training,” it added, referring to the group of warships which accompany the Shandong.
China has been working to hone its carrier operations but has little experience compared to the United States, which has operated integrated carrier battle groups with multiple vessels for decades.
With stealth jets, long-range missiles Japan readies to counter China
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government has approved a ninth consecutive rise in military spending, funding the development of an advanced stealth fighter and longer-range anti-ship missile to counter China’s growing military power.
The Ministry of Defence will get a record 5.34 trillion yen ($68 billion) for the year starting in April, up 1.1 per cent from this year. With Suga’s large majority in parliament, enactment of the budget is all but certain.
Suga is continuing the controversial military expansion pursued by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, to give Japan’s forces new planes, missiles and aircraft carriers with greater range and potency against potential foes including neighbouring China.
China plans to raise its military spending by 6.6 per cent this year, the smallest increase in three decades.
Japan is buying longer-range missiles and considering arming and training its military to strike distant land targets in China, North Korea and other parts of Asia.
A planned jet fighter, the first in three decades, is expected to cost around $US40 billion ($52 billion) and be ready in the 2030s. That project, which will be led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with help from Lockheed Martin, gets $US706 million in the new budget.
Japan will spend $US323 million to begin development of a long-range anti-ship missile to defend its south-western Okinawan island chain.
Other big purchases include $US628 million for six Lockheed F-35 stealth fighters, including two short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) B variants that will operate off a converted helicopter carrier.
The military will also get $US912 million to build two compact warships that can operate with fewer sailors than conventional destroyers, easing pressure on a navy struggling to find recruits in an ageing population.
Japan also wants two new warships to carry powerful new Aegis air and ballistic missile defence radars that have much as three times the range of older models. The government has not yet estimated the cost of the plan, which replaces a project cancelled in June to construct two ground Aegis Ashore stations.