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China sails new aircraft carrier near Taiwan

December 26, 2019

Beijing has sent its first Chinese-built aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait. With presidential elections in Taiwan weeks away, officials there have criticized the maneuvers as an intimidation tactic.

A Chinese aircraft carrier
Image: picture-alliance/AP Images/TPG

Beijing's first Chinese-built aircraft carrier sailed into the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, according to Taiwan's Defense Ministry.

The maneuver raises tensions in Taiwan ahead of presidential elections next month. President Tsai Ing-wen, known for her skeptical views of mainland China, is seeking re-election, while her challenger is hoping to unseat her with plans for warmer ties with Beijing.

The Defense Ministry said it had monitored the Shandong aircraft carrier and its accompanying vessels. The office of Taiwan's presidency issued a statement saying Beijing has an "international responsibility" to ensure cross-strait and regional peace.

Read more: China's ambitious bid for Southeast Asia hegemony

A silhouette is seen in the foreground of a picture of a Chinese aircraft carrier
Beijing's first Chinese-made aircraft carrier has traveled through the Taiwan Strait twice since its commissioning earlier this yearImage: picture-alliance/newscom/S. Shaver

'Won't be intimidated'

This is not the first time that China has sent the newly commissioned aircraft carrier through the strait. Beijing last month announced that it had sent the Shandong through the waterway as part of a routine training operation.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu at the time accused mainland China of meddling in Taiwan's election. "Voters won't be intimidated," he said.

Read more: Can Taiwan counter China's 'diplomatic aggression'?

Historic tensions

From 2008, Taipei and Beijing had witnessed a thaw in diplomatic tensions after Taiwan's China-friendly then-President Ma Ying-jeou signed a series of historic trade and tourism deals with the mainland.

However, that changed with the 2016 election of Tsai, who heads Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Beijing views Taiwan as a region that forms part of its territorial integrity, a view that is contested by various forces in Taiwan's political landscape.

Read more: Are Hong Kong protests a warning for Taiwan?

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ls/sms (Reuters, AFP)