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June 26, 2017

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US, China aircraft carriers could cross paths in January

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Aircraft carriers from the United States and the PRC could cross paths in the West Pacific area later this month, escalating tensions between the two countries, a military observer has speculated.

The Global Times newspaper cited a military expert as estimating that the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson would arrive in the West Pacific around Jan. 20, with the possibility of meeting Beijing's Liaoning carrier, according to Taiwan's Central News Agency.

The expert told the Global Times — a Chinese government organ — that it remains to be seen whether the Pentagon will pick this sensitive time to escalate military tensions in the area. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is due to be sworn in on Jan. 20.

The U.S. navy on Tuesday announced that the Carl Vinson battle group is leaving its base in San Diego, California this week for the Asia-Pacific area to replace the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, which is scheduled to return to the United States for maintenance.

The Liaoning currently is performing exercises in the South China Sea and speculation has arisen that it will return to its eastern base in Qingdao by passing through the Taiwan Strait after completing the training.

The Liaoning could pass through the Taiwan Strait between Jan. 5 and Jan. 15 when President Tsai Ing-wen is away on an official visit to Central America, media reported

The Liaoning is believed to have sailed down the seas east of Taiwan after leaving Qingdao, and by going through the Taiwan Strait it would complete a full-circle voyage around the island.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) Wednesday declined to comment on speculation regarding the Liaoning's return route, but maintained that it has been keeping a close eye on the aircraft carrier's movement.

The MND said it would respond to situations arising from the Liaoning's voyage.

A PRC foreign ministry spokesman on Tuesday declined to elaborate on the motives of the Liaoning exercises when asked whether they were meant to assert Beijing's sovereignty claims to the South China Sea.

"You can ask the military for details about the aircraft carrier. As for China's position on the issue of the South China Sea, it is very clear and there is no need for me to repeat it here," said the spokesman, Geng Shuang, at a regular press conference.

The CNA cited Geng as declining to confirm the return route of the Liaoning. Geng said the Liaoning was carrying out plans to conduct scientific research and training in the South China Sea and to examine the capabilities of its weaponry systems.

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