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Indo-Pacific

Chinese aircraft carrier follows US warship through Taiwan Strait

Shandong and four escort ships traverse same patch of water as tensions rise

The Shandong is China's first domestically built aircraft carrier. (Xinhua via Kyodo)

NEW YORK -- China's homegrown aircraft carrier Shandong has passed through the Taiwan Strait to conduct training in the South China Sea, the People's Liberation Army Navy said Monday.

The Sunday transit came the day after the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin made a similar passage and reflects the American and Chinese navies' resolve to demonstrate their presence in the body of water running between the mainland's Fujian Province and the island of Taiwan.

The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense said the Shandong left the northeastern Chinese port of Dalian along with four escort ships Thursday and continued to sail south after passing through the strait.

"Taiwan's military monitored the Chinese ships during their transit, mobilizing six Navy ships and eight Air Force planes," the ministry said Sunday, according to Taiwan's official Central News Agency.

"The cross-regional training of the aircraft carrier formation is a normal arrangement as per a yearly plan," PLA spokesperson Liu Wensheng said, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency, adding that similar missions will continue to be organized in accordance with training requirements in the future.

The Shandong is China's first fully homegrown aircraft carrier and the PLA's second aircraft carrier overall. The first was the Liaoning, a former Soviet vessel refurbished by the Chinese.

Sailors assigned to the destroyer USS Mustin clear the deck during a visit, board, search and seizure drill in the Sea of Japan. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

After its December 2019 commissioning ceremony in Sanya, Hainan Province, on the rim of the South China Sea, the Shandong returned to the Dalian Shipyard where it was built.

It has conducted training voyages from Dalian this year.

Since its commissioning, the homemade aircraft carrier "has successfully completed a variety of tasks, including carrier-based aircraft takeoff and landing, actual use of weapons and combat system testing," Liu said, noting that the task group's combat capability has continuously improved in the trials and training.

Passage through the Taiwan Strait, on the west side of Taiwan -- instead of going through the island's wider eastern waters -- is seen as a message to Washington.

The U.S. Navy said last week that the Mustin "conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit" in accordance with international law. "The ship's transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," it said in a statement. "The United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows."

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