December 27, 2016 / 2:47 AM / 10 months ago

Chinese carrier docks after drill amid new tension over Taiwan

A general view shows navy soldiers standing on China's first aircraft carrier "Liaoning" as it is berthed in a port in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning province, September 25, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

TAIPEI (Reuters) - China’s sole aircraft carrier has arrived at a naval base on the southern Chinese province of Hainan, a senior Taiwanese military officer said on Wednesday, after drills that took it around self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.

Taiwan warned on Tuesday that “the threat of our enemies is growing day by day”, as Chinese warships led by the carrier sailed towards Hainan through the disputed South China Sea.

The Chinese drill comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan, which China says is ineligible for state-to-state relations, following U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen that upset Beijing.

China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, suspecting she wants to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China.

China has given few details of what the Soviet-built Liaoning is up to, save that it is on a routine exercise and complying with international law.

Taiwan has said the aircraft carrier skirted waters outside its air defense identification zone to the east and south and then headed across the top of the South China Sea to Hainan, home to a large Chinese naval base.

“The Liaoning aircraft carrier has reached the Hainan military base. We will continue to monitor its developments,” a senior Taiwanese military official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

China had been testing the carrier’s systems and coordination with other military equipment, the officer said, and its arrival in Hainan did not mean its mission was over.

Chinese state media says the carrier’s likely home base was the northeastern port city of Qingdao.

Speaking at a regular news briefing, An Fengshan, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said China would exert all its efforts to achieve “peaceful reunification”.

“At the same time, our position on maintaining the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unswerving, and we will never permit Taiwan independence separatist forces to split Taiwan from China in any way or in any name,” he said.

China’s air force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine.

China claims most of the South China Sea. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

The Liaoning has taken part in previous exercises, including in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practiced for decades.

Reporting by J.R. Wu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie

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