Over the weekend, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) flagship, the aircraft carrier Liaoning, sailed to the east of Taiwan on its way from its home port of Qingdao in the north to training grounds in the South China Sea. The Type 052 guided missile destroyers Xining and Guiyang, as well as The Type 54 guided missile frigates Zaozhuang and Rizhao, escorted the Liaoning; the Type 901 combat support ship Hulunhu rounded out the flotilla, according to the South China Morning Post.
As the strike group passed between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa on Saturday afternoon, it was tracked closely by Japanese and Taiwanese forces, the latter of which dispatched several ships from the northern port of Suao to monitor the Chinese flotilla.
PLAN spokesperson Gao Xiucheng told the Global Times that the annual voyage was scheduled far ahead of time and that the route is in line with international law and conventional practice. As a consequence, a military expert consulted by the publication dismissed suggestions that the voyage could be construed as taking advantage of the pandemic situation.
Media Cries Foul
Although the Miyako Strait is an international waterway, the transit was treated by Taipei as a provocative action, as it was by many Western media outlets.
Taiwan News reported that Liaoning was “prowling the waters to the east of Taiwan” and said the Ministry of National Defense had to assuage the fears of civilians amid the transit.
Reuters described the transit as “the latest uptick in military tensions,” giving prime space at the top of the story to Taipei’s position that Beijing “should be concentrating on fighting the new coronavirus rather than menacing the island,” as the outlet described it.
“The strait is wide enough to qualify as an international waterway,” US military-connected publication Stars and Stripes was forced to admit, although it still noted the transit happened “as [the US] Navy struggles with coronavirus.”
A “show of force” is how United Press International described the event, noting it happened just as the two US aircraft carriers in the region, the USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam and USS Ronald Reagan in Yokosuka, are “debilitated” by the pandemic.
With the two US carriers in port, the Liaoning is the only operational aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean.
US Strategy Casts China as ‘Malign Actor’
Similar rhetoric emerged from Washington last week when two Russian IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft were detected by US radar far off the coast of Alaska. While the planes flew over international waters, Western media roared that Russia was “testing” US defenses as it struggles with the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Pentagon’s major shift in global strategy, toward “inter-state strategic competition” with Russia and China, is largely justified by the notion that the two nations are “malign actors,” wrongfully challenging the “rules-based order” established by the United States at the end of the Cold War, when it became the world’s sole superpower.
The People’s Republic of China regards Taiwan as a wayward province in rebellion, while the Taiwanese government, which formally calls itself the Republic of China, is the last remaining stronghold of the old capitalist Chinese government after the communist Red Army won the civil war in 1949. Taipei is autonomous and does not recognize the legitimacy of the socialist PRC, but has never declared independence - Beijing has promised war if it does.