Sail-by 'has no specific target'

World | Agence France-Presse 19 Nov 2019

China confirmed yesterday that its first domestically built aircraft carrier had sailed through the Taiwan Strait for "routine" training and tests after Taipei accused Beijing of intimidation around upcoming elections.

The ship, which has yet to be named, is Beijing's second carrier and will add massive firepower to its navy once it is officially put into service, as the country faces tensions with self-ruled Taiwan and regional neighbors around the disputed South China Sea.

The carrier crossed the waters on Sunday before entering the South China Sea for "scientific research tests and routine training", navy spokesman Cheng Dewei said.

Cheng said it was "normal practice" for carriers under testing to conduct cross-regional trials.

"It is not aimed at any specific target and has nothing to do with the current situation," Cheng said. The sail-by comes as Taiwan gears up for presidential elections in January.

Taipei's foreign minister Joseph Wu tweeted on Sunday that China "intends to intervene in Taiwan's elections," adding: "Voters won't be intimidated!"

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the naval operation was "nothing to be surprised about" and in line with international law.

China, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory, has stepped up military drills around the island since Beijing-skeptic President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election, came to power in 2016. Tsai, who has voiced support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, has described the elections as a fight for Taiwan's freedom and democracy.

On the same day as the sail-by, Tsai announced that former premier William Lai, who has styled himself as a "Taiwan independence worker", would be her running mate in a move likely to irritate Beijing.

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