TAIPEI — China has sent its sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, through the narrow Taiwan Strait that separates China from the self-ruled island, Taiwan’s defense minister said on Wednesday, according to local media.
The move comes on the heels of a warning from Chinese President Xi Jinping that Taiwan would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory and considers it a wayward province.
Speaking at Taiwan’s parliament, Defense Minister Yen Teh-fa said the Liaoning entered the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
The ministry is keeping a close watch on its progress, the report cited Yen as saying.
China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In January, the Liaoning sailed twice through the Taiwan Strait, in what China said was part of routine drills.
Taiwan says China has ramped up military exercises around the island in the past year or so. The island is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.
China’s hostility toward Taiwan has risen since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Monday expressed anger at comments by Taiwan Premier William Lai that Taiwan is a sovereign independent country, saying it was a “serious provocation” and that Taiwan was not and could never be a country.
China has also been infuriated by US President Donald Trump’s signing into law last week legislation that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwanese counterparts, and vice versa.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong is in Taiwan this week, where he is due to speak at a business event in Taipei later on Wednesday with Tsai.