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Chinese aircraft carrier leads large strike group into western Pacific as Taiwan tensions rise

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Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning has led a larger than usual strike group to train in the western Pacific as tensions rise over Taiwan.

Escorting the Liaoning were five destroyers, including a Type 055 – the most powerful such warship in the Chinese navy – as well as one frigate and one supply ship.

The fleet passed through the Miyako Strait between Japan’s Okinawa islands on Monday afternoon to enter the western Pacific before heading south, Tokyo’s defence ministry said.

The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group is currently deployed in the Philippine Sea, according to US Navy ship tracking information on Monday. This means the Chinese and US carrier groups would possibly not be too far away from each other.

Chinese navy spokesman Gao Xiucheng said the warships were on a “routine training” mission. “It is in line with relevant international laws and practices, and without targeting any party,” Gao said on Tuesday.

This comes just weeks after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held large-scale naval and air force exercises in the East China Sea, “in response to the recent frequent false signals released by the US on the Taiwan issue”.

Military exercises have been a usual way for the PLA to demonstrate power and resolve whenever tensions simmer over self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province to be taken back by force if necessary.

US lawmakers’ recent visits to Taiwan have been slammed as “provocative” by Beijing, which earlier also lashed out at former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe’s support for Taipei. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also sparked fresh US calls to help defend Taiwan, with US ally Tokyo reiterating the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait.

The Liaoning was first spotted by the Japanese in the East China Sea west of Nagasaki on Sunday, when it was leading five other vessels – the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Nanchang, Type 052D guided-missile destroyers Xining, Urumqi and Chengdu, and Type 901 supply ship Hulunhu.

The group was then joined by the Type 052C guided-missile destroyer Zhengzhou and Type 054A frigate Xiangtan in waters west of the disputed Diaoyu Islands on Monday. The flotilla then sailed through the Miyako Strait, the Japanese Ministry of Defence said.
This was the first Pacific training session of the Liaoning carrier strike group since last December, when it took five other warships through the strategically important strait.

The Nanchang was part of that drill, as well as another the previous April, suggesting it has become a permanent member of the strike group.

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