BEIJING – China said Wednesday it was committed to promoting peace and stability in Asia, even as it sent an aircraft carrier battle group through the Taiwan Strait amid heightened tensions between Beijing and the self-ruled island.
The statement in the preface to a Cabinet report on China's policies on Asia-Pacific security cooperation follows heated criticism from the U.S., Japan and others over Beijing's increasingly robust assertions of its maritime claims, particularly in the South China Sea.
The report made no direct reference to such concerns while casting Beijing as a force for economic development and conflict reduction.
"China is committed to promoting peace and stability in this region. It follows the path of peaceful development and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening up," the report said.
"It has participated in regional cooperation in an all-round way and taken active steps in response to both traditional and non-traditional security challenges, contributing to lasting peace and common prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region," it said.
The report reiterated China's claims over South China Sea islands and waters, as well as territories in the East China Sea controlled by Japan. It also expressed strong opposition to the deployment by the U.S. and South Korea of an advanced missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea, saying that would "seriously damage the regional strategic balance and the strategic security interests of China and other countries in the region."
However, the emphasis was firmly on China's contributions to security and willingness to cooperate with others on "improving the regional security framework."
"China has actively pushed for peaceful solutions to hotspot issues such as the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and the Afghanistan issue, and played its due role as a responsible major country," the report said.
Despite such rhetoric, China's rapid military modernization has raised concerns about its intentions, particularly regarding Taiwan, which it claims as its territory.
Earlier Wednesday, Taiwan's Defense Ministry said it was keeping an eye on China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and its battle group as it passed through the 160 kilometer- (100 mile-) wide strait separating Taiwan from southeastern China.
A ministry statement said the Liaoning was traveling northwest along the center line dividing the strait and urged the public not to be alarmed.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing has never renounced its threat to use force if it considers that necessary to prevent the island's permanent independence from the mainland.
Relations have deteriorated since Taiwanese elected independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen last year, and Chinese officials have warned of more turbulence ahead unless she endorses Beijing's view that Taiwan is part of China.
China has been steadily ratcheting up pressure, discouraging Chinese tourists from visiting the island of 23 million and intervening to prevent its participation in international forums.
"Looking ahead in 2017, the development of cross-strait relations faces increased levels of uncertainty and the challenge of risk has risen," Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters Wednesday.
Ma said he had no information on the Liaoning's passage through the Taiwan Strait and referred questions on the matter to the Defense Ministry, which did not immediately respond.
The significance of the carrier's passage through the strait was open to interpretation, said Zhao Gancheng, director of the Asia-Pacific Center at Shanghai's Institute for International Studies.
"China has now acquired numerous means to pose threats to Taiwan. If the Taiwan side interprets it as a threat, that's a matter for Taiwan," said Zhao, adding such missions would grow more frequent as the Chinese navy gained new capabilities.
However, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said the issue wouldn't affect relations between the sides.
China's navy "does not pose a threat to the security of this region or to neighboring countries," said Liu, speaking at a news conference to discuss the Cabinet report.