China sailed its newest aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait for the second time on Thursday as it stepped up its claims in the South China Sea, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry has announced.
In its statement, the ministry confirmed that it had monitored the Shandong aircraft carrier and its accompanying vessels, adding that Beijing has an “international responsibility” to maintain cross-strait and regional peace.
The Chinese carrier first traveled through the strait last month in what Beijing described as “routine training” in the “relevant waters of the South China Sea.”
The move raises further tensions in Taiwan ahead of next month’s presidential election, where incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen is seeking to win reelection on a platform of shoring up Taiwan’s independence from China.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu responded to the maneuver by accusing China of trying to interfere in the elections, declaring that the Taiwanese voters would not be intimidated by China’s aggression.
“Military threats like this only toughen Taiwan’s determination to defend itself and preserve regional peace and stability,” the Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter.
China lays most of the South China Sea, including territory belonging to Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia, which remains a source of political tensions between the affected countries.
To consolidate its claims, Beijing has aggressively expanded its naval and coast guard forces operations in recent years as it tries to stake its claim on the territory.
However, the main reason behind the tensions between the two countries is because Beijing considers it a breakaway province rather than a sovereign nation, despite the fact that it operates as a fully independent democracy.
China also does not recognize Taiwan’s claims in the South China Sea, which include the Taiwan Strait, because it argues anything belonging to Taiwan is naturally part of China. It also claims the strait has been part of the People’s Republic of China, which is only 70 years old, since “ancient times.”
To assert its dominance, China has dispatched weaponry including anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers to the region, claiming their presence is merely for search and rescue and research purposes.
However, Taiwan’s sovereignty is backed by the United States, with the White House recently approving $2 billion worth of arms and other military equipment in the biggest single arms sale to its Asian ally since Trump took office.
In October, Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe warned that “the momentum of China’s reunification cannot be stopped by any individuals or forces,” adding that it will not “relinquish a single inch of territory passed down from our forefathers.” The remarks were widely interpreted as a reference to Chinese claims over the territory.