In ‘provocative’ move, China sails aircraft carrier through contested Taiwan Strait hours before Biden-Xi call

In a move that can only be viewed as a tone-setting message to President Joe Biden, China sailed an elite aircraft carrier through the contested Taiwan Strait Friday morning, just 12 hours before Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Biden are set to have their first conversation in months, according to a report from Reuters.

China’s Shandong, considered a jewel in the nation’s naval crown, passed north through the strait, sailing close to Taiwan’s Kinmen island, located just across from the Chinese city of Xiamen, according to an anonymous source who was not authorized to talk to the media.

The carrier, officially known as the CV-17, was shadowed by one of America’s own, an Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer called the USS Ralph Jones.

“Around 10:30 a.m. the CV-17 [carrier] appeared around 30 nautical miles to the southwest of Kinmen, and was photographed by a passenger on a civilian flight,” the source stated, adding that, in addition to the Ralph Jones, Taiwan sent warships to monitor the situation.

In a short statement released by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, Taiwan confirmed the Shandong’s passage and said only that Taiwan’s forces have a “full grasp” of activity in the strait by Chinese ships and carriers.

According to the source, the timing of the Shandong’s journey is “provocative” and sailing the Shandong during daylight hours is unusual.

A senior lawmaker from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Lo Chih-cheng, echoed the source’s sentiments, calling the movement, amid rising concerns over the Russia-Ukraine war and just before a call with Biden, a “very provocative message.”

“Tensions across the Taiwan Strait won’t rise sharply because of this, but it will likely cause neighboring countries to raise their military alert,” he stated.

U.S. Navy spokesperson Lt. Mark Langford added little in the way of details on the incident,  stating only that the Ralph Johnson had “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit March 17 (local time) through international waters in accordance with international law.”

And Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told Beijing reporters the Shandong has a “routine training schedule” and the movement of the Shandong is unrelated to the Xi-Biden call.

“We should not associate this with the communication between the heads of state of China and the United States,” Zhao said. “You may think it is too sensitive. What is sensitive is you, not the Taiwan Strait.”

But the Taiwan Strait is a sensitive topic, and it has been for years.

“In December 2019, shortly before presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan, [the Shandong] sailed through the Taiwan Strait, a move condemned by Taiwan as attempted intimidation,” Reuters reports.

And since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has stepped up its forays into Taiwan airspace, forcing Taiwan to scramble its aircraft on an almost daily basis.

Indeed, Reuters states, “China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with the United States.”

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