On Monday, China’s first aircraft carrier and five other warships passed by Taiwan and entered the top half of the South China Sea, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.
The Defense Ministry said that the ships, led by the Liaoning carrier, had set off for a routine open-sea exercise in the Western Pacific as part of its annual training. However, the ships entered the South China Sea amid rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei over the status of the self-governing island.
The Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier sailed past the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan, and was heading southwest.
The Taiwanese ministry said the Liaoning and warships had passed 90 nautical miles south of Taiwan’s southernmost point via the Bashi Channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines on Sunday.
“Staying vigilant and flexible has always been the normal method of maintaining airspace security,” ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi told Reuters.
Senior Taiwan opposition Nationalist lawmaker Johnny Chiang told Reuters the Chinese military exercise was a signal to the U.S. that they had had broken through the “first island chain.”
Tensions between the U.S. and China have risen in the South China Sea as each country accuse one another of building their military up. China argues that they have claims to the entire South China Sea.
The U.S. State Department said that their position in the South China Sea has not changed and that they will monitor China’s military presence and that they expect all nations conducting military exercises to comply with the law.
Earlier this month, President-elect Donald Trump broke long-standing tradition by speaking with Taiwan’s leader over the phone.
In 1979, the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with the country but has maintained close unofficial relations with their government as well as a commitment to defense support.
“Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Trump tweeted earlier this year.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing that the aircraft carriers movement complies with maritime law.
“Our Liaoning should enjoy in accordance with the law freedom of navigation and overflight as set by international law, and we hope all sides can respect this right of China’s,” she said.