China sailed its newest aircraft carrier near a Taiwanese island in the Taiwan Strait on Friday in a saber-rattling signal to the United States hours before a video call between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The carrier Shandong made the passage near the island of Kinmen close to the Chinese port of Xiamen, according to reports from the region. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry confirmed the warship passage in a statement that did not provide details.
The U.S. Navy shadowed the aircraft carrier partly during the passage.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson made a routine transit of the Strait on Thursday “in accordance with international law,” a Navy spokesperson said.
The voyage comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China over concerns Beijing might exploit the crisis in Ukraine to take some type of military action against Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by China as its territory.
Air Force Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said earlier this week that Beijing would face an even more robust resistance from Taiwan than the Russians are experiencing in Ukraine if China decided to attack the island.
“Around 10:30 a.m. [Friday] the [Shandong] appeared around 30 nautical miles to the southwest of Kinmen, and was photographed by a passenger on a civilian flight,” a source familiar with the activity told the Reuters news agency.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said he was not aware of the carrier’s passage. But he added: “I’m sure the aircraft carrier has routine training arrangements. One shouldn’t link this with the communication between the Chinese and U.S. heads of state.”
The warship transit took place around 12 hours before the call Friday between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi that U.S. officials said would include a warning from the American leader for China not to support Russia’s military operations in Ukraine.
Beijing has sought to stay neutral regarding the invasion despite a recent cooperation agreement between Beijing and Moscow and Chinese state media reporting critical of NATO and supporting Russia’s reasons for acting.
The carrier voyage was deemed provocative and took place during daylight hours. Past transits happened at night.
The first carrier, the Liaoning, was built from a partially completed aircraft carrier acquired from Ukraine.
China’s military has been dispatching aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone on a regular basis in recent months. On Friday, two J-11 jet fighters and an anti-submarine helicopter intruded into the air defense zone near the southern end of Taiwan.