© Reuters. Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng attends a parliamentary session in Taipei, Taiwan April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
By Ben Blanchard and Liz Lee
TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan was closely watching a Chinese aircraft carrier and threatening to inspect ships in the Taiwan Strait on Thursday after Beijing condemned a meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. President Kevin McCarthy .
McCarthy – the third-highest ranking official in the US hierarchy – and other Republican and Democratic lawmakers met with Tsai on Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
The meeting took place as US-China relations were at rock bottom and despite threats of retaliation from Beijing, which claims to democratically rule Taiwan as its own and has not renounced the use of force to control it.
The Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shandong, was spotted on Wednesday and was currently 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the east coast of Taiwan, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters in parliament. from Taipei.
“It’s a practice, but the timing is quite sensitive, and we’re still studying what it does,” Chiu said, adding that the plane had yet to be seen taking off from its deck.
He then told lawmakers that the vessel was east of the southern tip of Taiwan and Taiwanese warships were watching it from a distance of five to six nautical miles.
China has already sailed its aircraft carriers near Taiwan and at equally sensitive times.
In March last year, Shandong crossed the Taiwan Strait, just hours before the Chinese and US presidents were to meet.
China held war games around Taiwan last August after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.
Tsai is due to return to Taipei on Friday.
China’s Defense Ministry condemned the McCarthy meeting, but did not threaten specific action.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army adheres to its duties and missions, maintains high alertness at all times, resolutely upholds national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and resolutely upholds peace and stability in the Strait of China. Taiwan,” she said in a statement.
Ko Cheng-heng, deputy head of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, told lawmakers on Thursday that they did not expect as strong a reaction from China as after Pelosi’s trip.
“What interests the Chinese Communists the most is whether McCarthy will go to Taiwan,” he said.
China is also trying to show a more diplomatic face to the world, Ko said, noting that French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are currently in Beijing.
“So for now they continue to give a more peaceful and high-powered image.”
Taiwan is also concerned about China’s announcement late Wednesday that its Maritime Security Administration must inspect vessels in the Taiwan Strait, possibly including boarding them.
Taiwan has told shipping operators that if they encounter such requests from China, they should refuse them and immediately notify the Taiwan Coast Guard for assistance.
Defense Minister Chiu said Taiwan would react if Chinese patrol ships crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait, which normally serves as an unofficial barrier between the two sides.
China claims that the Taiwan Strait is its sovereign territory.
“It was China that unilaterally announced its jurisdiction over this sea, and we don’t agree with that,” Chiu said.
However, he said the vessel sent by China to conduct the inspections, the Haixun 6, is currently in waters near China’s coast.
Ko added that he was unaware of any recent cases of Chinese boarding Taiwanese vessels to inspect them.