Tensions in the Western Pacific region have escalated to new heights after a mainland Chinese aircraft carrier group set sail to the waters near Taiwan for drills, while a United States combat group entered the South China Sea, military observers said.
The group headed by the Liaoning, mainland China’s first carrier, had passed the waters southwest of Japan’s Okinawa Island and was heading towards the east of Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army said on Monday. About 10 mainland warplanes also crossed into Taiwan’s airspace on the same day.
The Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece The Global Times said on Tuesday that the exercises focused on a blockade against Taiwan using air and naval forces. It said an aircraft carrier would be useful in a military operation against the self-ruled island, even if it was “overkill.”
The high-profile deployment of the Chinese carrier came around the same time the U.S. sent the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier group into the disputed South China Sea.
This was Washington’s display of support for the Philippines in a territorial dispute with China, and a response to the Liaoning exercises, said Hong Kong-based military observer Larry who hosts a YouTube channel about weaponry.
About 200 Chinese vessels were moored at Whitsun Reef, a shallow coral region about 324 kilometers west of Bataraza town in the western Philippine province of Palawan. USS Theodore Roosevelt’s appearance in the South China Sea was to show U.S. support for Manila, as well as sending a message to Beijing that America was looking after the Western Pacific region, Larry said.
The Liaoning’s exercises were also a possible reason for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s postponement of his planned U.S. visit by a week to April 16, Larry said.
The escalating tensions from the Taiwan Strait to the South China Sea had turned the region into a powder keg similar to the Balkans Peninsula prior to World War I, said Ma Cheng-kun, who heads a research center on mainland Chinese military at Taiwan’s National Defense University.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said Beijing intended to flex its muscles and pressure Washington after top diplomats and defense officials from the U.S. and Japan agreed on the importance of Taiwan’s defense last month.
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