On Monday, eight Chinese warships, led by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s aircraft carrier Liaoning, passed through the Okinawa island chain in southern Japan in a show of strength that state media described as “preparation for missions that include a potential military conflict across the Taiwan Strait.”
According to accounts from the Japanese defence ministry and Chinese official media, the warships travelled between the main Okinawa island and Miyako island, and while there was no intrusion into Japanese territorial seas, helicopters on board the Liaoning carrier took off and landed.
These islands are part of the “first island chain” under Chinese naval doctrine, and sailing past them represents a power projection by the Chinese navy.
The Izumo, a helicopter carrier, as well as P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and P-3C anti-submarine aircraft, were despatched by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, or Japanese navy, to monitor the passage of the Chinese boats, according to a news release from Japan’s defence ministry.
The US 7th Fleet, which is based in Japan, is anticipated to keep an eye on the Chinese warships as they pass by.
The aircraft carrier group, which consists of at least eight warships, including destroyers, is the largest to head out to sea, “marking a significant combat capability boost in preparation for missions that include a potential military conflict across the Taiwan Straits,” according to experts quoted by the state-run Global Times.
The PLA Navy presently has two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, with a third anticipated to be commissioned this year.
According to the news report, the Chinese warships are expected to sail further east into the Pacific Ocean after passing through the Miyako Strait, or they could travel south through the Bashi Channel to the island of Taiwan and perform manoeuvres in the South China Sea, based on prior excursions.
Guided missile destroyers, a guided missile frigate, and the Type 901 comprehensive supply ship Hulunhu followed the aircraft carrier.
According to Japanese national station NHK, it was the first time a Chinese aircraft carrier had been reported to have sailed in the area since December last year.
The Chinese aircraft carrier group crossed the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and reached the Western Pacific via the Miyako Straits late last year, undertaking comprehensive operations in many domains aimed at improving the carrier group formation concept, according to a PLA announcement in December.
Taiwan is considered a renegade province by China, which has never ruled out using force to reunite it with the mainland.