China Confirms Aircraft Carrier Liaoning Drills Near Taiwan

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy official confirmed on December 2nd, China’s only aircraft carrier has, for the first time, conducted drills in the South China Sea with a formation of other warships and several J-15 fighter jets. Taiwan said the carrier and five other accompanying warships had passed 90 nautical miles south of the island. China’s move could raise concerns among its neighbours.

Liaoning is a 67,500-ton ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, purchased as an incomplete hull from Ukraine through a private Macau tourist venture in 1998. The Liaoning was commissioned in 2013, and in November it was declared ready to engage in combat by the ship’s political commissar.

China has not described specifically how it intends to use the Liaoning in the long-term plan, but according to Eric Wertheim, author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World, “These latest drills provide our first insights into how China will likely be using their aircraft carrier in the near future. Rather than extended power projection in far-off waters, the Chinese appear more likely to use the carrier, at least initially, as a demonstration of regional muscle – sending a message that they are willing to back up talk, policy, or rhetoric with a show of strength. The Chinese carrier is an important symbol of their power for both a domestic and international audience. As their skills begin to improve, their carrier could also potentially provide a temporary boost to their own military and aviation capabilities in contested areas like the South China Sea.”

China says the drills are part of a routine open-sea exercise, but this action could add to tensions between Beijing and Taipei. Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen, has destabilized relations with Beijing by refusing to endorse Beijing’s concept that Taiwan is a part of China. Moreover, Tsai’s telephone call to US President-elect Donald Trump in December broke almost four decades of international protocol. It was also confirmed that Tsai will transit in two U.S. cities, San Francisco and Houston, when visiting Central America.

“The Liaoning aircraft carrier group in the South China Sea is carrying out scientific research and training, in accordance with plans,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing. “The purpose is to test the performance of weapons and equipment,” he said. Tensions have mounted in the South China Sea, where the U.S. and China accuse each other of engaging in a dangerous military buildup. China has been angered recently by U.S. naval patrols near the islands that China claims in the South China Sea. This month, a Chinese navy ship seized an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) of the U.S. in the South China Sea and returned it a week later.

To sum up, China’s drills, this time, aimed at showing its power and strength to the U.S. that it has broken through the “the first island chain.” On the other hand, it made an assertive action of its position on the South China Sea, where China contests with many other Southeast Asian countries. Based on all of the reactions from different related parties so far, none of the states reacted provocatively. Therefore, we have enough faith to believe, as well appeal to all involved states to remain calm and rational, in order to not escalate current tensions to physical force conflict.

Jieruo Li
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