Taiwan, Japan on high alert after sighting Chinese warships

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Taiwan was on high alert today as China's first aircraft carrier passed through the Taiwan Strait, state-run media reported, a day after three Chinese warships were spotted near southern Japan.

The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone from the south-west at 7am (same time in Malaysia) and sailed north in the strait, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence said.

The Liaoning and its escort vessels were sailing to the west of the median line of the 180-kilometre wide channel, according to the ministry. The passage would take about 10 hours.

"We ask the public to put minds at rest because we've monitored the situation," the ministry said in a statement.

The warships were returning to China after holding drills in the South China Sea. The return journey coincided with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's trip to Central America, which is aimed at strengthening relations with the country's remaining allies.

In Washington, asked about the Liaoning's operation, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said today that part of the United States' overall strategy within the Pacific and Asia is to de-escalate tensions.

"We certainly don't want to see shows of force or any kind of escalation," Toner said.

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949. Taiwan has 21 diplomatic allies after it lost Sao Tome and Principe, a tiny African island nation, to China in December.

Yedsterday, three Chinese navy ships sailed near the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, Japan's Defence Ministry said.

The Chinese warships passed through the Tsushima Strait at around 10am (9am in Malaysia) yesterday, the ministry said in a statement.

However, the ships did not enter what Japan considers to be its territorial waters, the ministry said.

On Monday, eight Chinese aircraft, including six H-6 bombers, were spotted flying over the strait, prompting the Japan to scramble fighter jets.

There was no violation of Japan's airspace, the ministry said.

- dpa

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