High tension as Chinese warships enter Taiwan Strait
By Jermyn Chow
12 January 2017

TAIPEI (The Straits Times/ ANN) - Taipei scrambles fighter jets and reassures the public that there is no need to 'overly panic'. 

China's aircraft carrier sailed into the Taiwan Strait yesterday for the first time, leading Taipei to dispatch F-16 fighter jets and call for calm amid rising tensions.

Liaoning, China's sole aircraft carrier, entered the island's air defence identification zone at 7am yesterday with five other warships.

Taiwan scrambled F-16 fighter jets and other warplanes to "surveil and control" the movement of the People's Liberation Army Navy warships, said a Taiwan defence ministry spokesman. The warships sailed up the west side of the median line of the strait but did not veer into Taiwanese waters, he added.

"The military is monitoring the whole situation and will act as necessary," Taiwan's defence ministry said in a statement. "There is currently no navy or air force activity out of the ordinary."

While the Soviet-made Liaoning had passed southern Taiwan last month en route to the South China Sea to conduct sea drills, this is the first time that it has sailed through the Taiwan Strait since it was declared as combat-ready in November 2016. 

Yesterday, Taiwan's top China policymaker urged Beijing to resume communication with the island after official communication was suspended by China

Mainland Affairs Council minister Katherine Chang also reassured the public. "There is no need for us to overly panic," she said at a news briefing, adding that the government has "sufficient capabilities" to defend the island.

The latest military posturing by China comes as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is on a nine-day trip to Central America to shore up support from the island's dwindling number of diplomatic allies.

Last month, the African nation of Sao Tome and Principe switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, leaving Taipei with just 21 diplomatic allies.

Relations between China and Taiwan had worsened after Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, failed to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus in her inauguration speech last May. It is a tacit agreement that there is only one China, with each side having its own interpretation. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and sees the Consensus as crucial to ensuring stable cross-strait ties.

An unprecedented phone call between Tsai and United States President-elect Donald Trump last month further worsened tensions.

Yesterday, Chang reiterated that both sides should find a "new model of interaction". She said: "We urge China (to understand) the hopes of people on both sides to maintain peaceful and stable development in relations as well as free exchange and interactions."

But at a regular briefing yesterday, China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman urged Taipei to abide by the Consensus as he warned against the "increasing uncertainties" in cross-strait ties.

Analysts said the entry of the Liaoning into the Taiwan Strait is China's way of putting pressure on Taiwan to acknowledge the "one China" principle.

Political analyst Edward Chen, of the Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said: "The Liaoning aircraft carrier is more a symbolic than a substantial military threat as it is far from being operational.

"But China is sending a signal to Taiwan not to go too far in its efforts to push for independence."

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