BEIJING: China confirmed on Monday (Nov 18) that its first domestically built aircraft carrier had sailed through the Taiwan Strait for "routine" training and tests after Taipei accused Beijing of intimidation around upcoming elections.
The ship, which has yet to be named, is Beijing's second carrier and will add massive firepower to its navy as it faces tensions with Taiwan and regional neighbours around the disputed South China Sea.
The carrier, which was launched in 2017, crossed the sensitive waters on Sunday before entering the South China Sea for "scientific research tests and routine training", navy spokesman Cheng Dewei said on an official social media account.
Cheng said it was "normal practice" for carriers that are under construction to conduct cross-regional tests.
"It is not aimed at any specific target and has nothing to do with the current situation," Cheng said without elaborating.
Taipei's foreign minister Joseph Wu tweeted on Sunday that China "intends to intervene in #Taiwan's elections", adding: "Voters won't be intimidated!"
Earlier on Monday, China called on the US military to stop flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and to avoid adding "new uncertainties" over Taiwan, during high-level talks that underscored tension between the world's two largest economies.
The remarks by Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, recounted by a Chinese spokesman, came just two weeks after a top White House official denounced Chinese "intimidation" in the busy waterway.
It also came a day after Esper publicly accused Beijing of "increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives" in the region.
During closed-door talks on the sidelines of a gathering of defense ministers in Bangkok, Wei urged Esper to "stop flexing muscles in the South China Sea and to not provoke and escalate tensions in the South China Sea," the spokesman, Wu Qian, said.
China claims almost all the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. However, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.
The United States accuses China of militarizing the South China Sea and trying to intimidate Asian neighbors who might want to exploit trillion of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves.
Fenghe underscored to Esper China's position that it would "not tolerate any Taiwan independence incident," Wu said, adding that it opposed any official or military contact with Taiwan.
China has in the past threatened to attack if Taiwan, set to hold a presidential election next year, moves towards independence.
"The Chinese side also requires the U.S. side to carefully handle the Taiwan related-issue and to not add new uncertainties to the Strait," Wu said.