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Chinese aircraft carrier sails out of Taiwan Strait

China and Taiwan have reported that China's Liaoning aircraft carrier sailed out of the Taiwan Strait. Its passage through the waters dividing the mainland from the island had raised tensions.

In a statement posted on the Chinese defense ministry's website, a spokesman for China's army said the Liaoning carrier group was "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."

Beijing also said that the carrier's passage through the strait fully compiled with international law.

Taiwanese news outlet Focus Taiwan also reported that the Liaoning completed its passage at 06:30 a.m. local time (2330 UTC).

The self-ruled island announced Wednesday that China's sole aircraft carrier had entered the Strait of water dividing mainland China from what it considers to be its own territory.

China, by contrast, has always claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since Mao Zedong's Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek's defeated nationalists to the island in 1949. 

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Beijing's show of strength

Heightened tensions between the two sides have been spurred largely by Beijing's suspicion that the island's President, Tsai Ing-wen, is seeking independence from China.

Since 1949, China has claimed the island as its own while granting it some administrative freedoms.

The two have maintained an uneasy truce. Tensions have on occasion threatened to spill over. In 1995 and 1996, a series of exercises by Beijing prompted the US to deploy warships to the Strait in a bid to defuse the situation.

China's most recent round of military exercises in the disputed South China Sea has also unnerved Beijing's regional neighbors. Aside from being energy rich, the disputed waters are also a key shipping channel. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the waters.

The Chinese navy commissioned the Liaoning in 2012 after acquiring the incomplete hull of a Soviet-era aircraft carrier from Ukraine. In December 2015, China's defense ministry announced it would build a second aircraft carrier, but it is not clear when it will be completed.

dm/msh (Reuters)

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