Nov. 18 (UPI) -- A Chinese aircraft carrier that recently entered the Taiwan Strait could be deployed to guard the South China Sea, Chinese state media said Monday.
Chinese navy spokesman Cheng Dewei had said Beijing's first domestically developed aircraft carrier, the 002, recently entered the South China Sea for "scientific research tests and routine training." The presence of the carrier in the Taiwan strait is "normal practice," Cheng said.
Global Times said Monday the carrier is likely to be deployed to guard the South China Sea, where the country has been militarizing disputed islands.
Earlier on Sunday, Taiwan's defense ministry had said a cluster of Chinese ships, led by the carrier, had passed through the Taiwan Strait, less than a week after a U.S. guided missile cruiser, the Chancellorsville, had engaged in what the U.S. Navy described as a "routine" mission "in accordance with international law."
The Global Times stated the South China Sea deployment could take place after a "commissioning ceremony" is held in Sanya port, on Hainan Island. The carrier will be deployed at Hainan, the report said, to "protect the peace and the sovereignty of the South China Sea."
China has claimed the South China Sea as territorial waters.
Taiwan's defense ministry has said China's 002 is being tracked by the USS Wayne E. Meyer, a Japanese Aegis destroyer, and Taiwan's Cheng Kung-class frigates.
The 002 is capable of carrying as many as 32 to 36 J-15 Chinese fighter jets.
China has defended its actions. On Monday during a meeting of defense ministers in Thailand, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper the United States must "stop flexing muscles in the South China Sea and to not provoke and escalate tensions in the South China Sea," Al Jazeera reported.
Esper has said Beijing is "increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives."