Maneuvers near Taiwan, Japan a warning to Washington and allies
OKI NAGAI, Nikkei staff writer
BEIJING -- China's latest naval expedition through the Taiwan Strait and recent activity near Japan seem intended to send a message to the U.S. and its allies as harsh critics of China head for the White House.
China's aircraft carrier Liaoning on Wednesday sailed north through the strait and was observed by Taiwan's military to the west of the median line between the island and the Chinese mainland. The vessel is thought to be returning to China's naval base at Qingdao on the Yellow Sea.
The Liaoning in December sailed to the South China Sea for naval exercises via the Pacific Ocean east of Taiwan. The return trip completes the vessel's first full trip around the island. On a similar expedition three years ago, the carrier traversed the Taiwan Strait in both directions.
China's navy appears ready to head farther afield. A commentary in the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily on Sunday warned that the Liaoning will eventually venture past the so-called second island chain containing Japan's Ogasawara Islands and the U.S. Marianas (Saipan and Guam) and into the eastern Pacific.
Meanwhile, on Monday, eight Chinese military aircraft flew over the Tsushima Strait linking the East China Sea and Sea of Japan, becoming the largest-ever such group to pass through the area. Three naval vessels sailed through the strait to the East China Sea the following day.
China's military insists that these actions are all part of exercises laid out in an annual training plan. But many see this flurry of activity just as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is preparing to take office as a warning to the U.S., Japan and Taiwan.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party, has made overtures toward Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as Trump, to Beijing's alarm. Her moves included a stopover in the U.S. on Sunday en route to Central America, when Tsai met officials, including a senator from the president-elect's Republican Party. She has scheduled another U.S. stopover in San Francisco for her return trip, despite Beijing's objections to the first.
Not too far
Yet there are also signs that China aims to avoid direct confrontation with the U.S., since it still lags behind the U.S. in military might. The timing of the Liaoning's departure from the South China Sea seems designed to avoid a close encounter with a U.S. supercarrier expected to enter the area after arriving in the western Pacific around Jan. 20. The Liaoning also steered clear of waters too close to Taiwan during its trip Wednesday, avoiding friction with Washington and Taipei.
A Chinese government white paper on Asia-Pacific security cooperation released Wednesday insists that the country will "make necessary responses to the provocative actions which infringe on China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea." But Beijing is also ready to "work with the new U.S. administration to follow the principles of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation," the document states.