Using the global distraction created by the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), and the sidelining of the USS Roosevelt due to COVID-19, China’s People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is deploying its new “carrier strike force” to threaten Taiwan.
Japanese defense sources cited by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) first reported that the fleet, led by China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was seen passing through the Miyako Strait near Okinawa, and then turning south toward Taiwan.
With the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier offline in Guam due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Chinese warship is the only carrier now active in the Western Pacific, filling that vacuum.
The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, is based on the hull of an old Soviet warship and uses a ski ramp rather than catapults to launch aircraft. The South China Morning Post reported that it was “escorted by two Type 052D guided-missile destroyers – the Xining and Guiyang – two Type 054A guided-missile frigates – the Zaozhuang and Rizhao – and a Type 901 combat support ship, the Hulunhu.”
Taiwan scrambled warships and aircraft on Saturday night to monitor the movements. On Sunday, “a US Navy EP-3E electronic reconnaissance aircraft flew past the south of the island en route to the South China Sea, according to the military aircraft tracking Twitter account, Aircraft Spots,” cited by the SCMP.
On Sunday the Chinese carrier passed by the eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan to carry out naval drills, and according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, Taiwan’s armed forces monitored the carrier group’s progress and conducted its own unspecified naval and military operations, reported Reuters.
Earlier, on Thursday, according to the SCMP, a Chinese “H-6 bomber, J-11 fighter and KJ-500 reconnaissance plane from the PLA Air Force flew over southwestern Taiwan and on to the western Pacific where they followed a US RC-135U electronic reconnaissance aircraft.”
This aggressive deployment of this Chinese carrier strike group near Taiwan’s waters – precisely after the USS Theodore Roosevelt was very publicly sidelined – demonstrates the bigger strategic picture missing during the recent controversy over the US carrier captain’s actions and dismissal.