Tensions mount as China sends warship through Taiwan Strait
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Tensions mount as China sends warship through Taiwan Strait

CHINA has sent its sole operational aircraft carrier the Liaoning through the narrow Taiwan Strait that separates China from the self-ruled island, just one day after President Xi Jinping warned that Taiwan would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism.

Taiwan’s defence minister Yen Teh-fa said on Wednesday the Soviet-built aircraft carrier entered the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday. The ministry is keeping a close watch on its progress.

China has considered Taiwan a renegade state ever since Chian Kai-shek, leader of the nationalist Chinese, lost the civil war to the Communists and fled with thousands of supporters to the island in 1949. Beijing claims Taiwan as its sacred territory and considers it a Chinese province, not a nation.

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China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is seen anchored in the northern port in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province. Source: AP

Taiwan says China has ramped up military exercises around the island in the past year or so. The island is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.

China’s hostility towards Taiwan has risen since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

SEE ALSO: China-Taiwan tensions could be the tinderbox to set Asia-Pacific alight

China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo under the “One China” policy and is committed to ensuring peace.

On Tuesday, Xi told the 3,000-odd delegates at the annual session of parliament that China would push for the “peaceful reunification of the motherland” and work for more Taiwanese to enjoy the opportunities of its development.

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Tsai with Varela during the welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Panama City, Panama, on June 27, 2016. Source: Reuters/Carlos Jasso

“It is a shared aspiration of all Chinese people and in their basic interests to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and realise China’s complete reunification,” he said.

“Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation and the punishment of history,” he added, to loud applause.

His comments may have been partly in response to US President Donald Trump signing legislation that encourages an exchange of senior officials between Taiwan and America. The arrival of US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong in Taiwan this week will likely further irritate Beijing. He is due to speak at a business event in Taipei later on Wednesday with Tsai.

Additional reporting by Reuters