China is reportedly sending its two new aircraft carriers into war games near the Pratas Islands, playing into fears that a Taiwan invasion could be next on the cards. The aircraft carriers Liaoning and Shandong are currently in Bohai Bay in the Yellow Sea on a combat readiness mission before the massive ships head into the war games. The move comes after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang expressed Beijing's desire to 'reunify' with self-ruled Taiwan, an apparent policy shift. The aircraft carrier deployment also follows a US decision to impose sanctions on 33 Chinese companies for helping Beijing spy on its minority Uighur population or because of ties to weapons of mass destruction and China's military.
US-China relations have been growing increasingly tense as more both dispute the origins of coronavirus. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned on Friday that the sanctions would risk 'a new Cold War', as tensions between both countries have escalated over the coronavirus outbreak. The Trump administration has increasingly blamed China for its handling of the outbreak, while Beijing has accused some in Washington of engaging in propaganda. A report released last week by the Council on Foreign Relations, a political think tank, sees possible military conflict between the US and China in the South China Sea likely in the next 18 months if, 'their relationship continues to deteriorate as a result of ongoing trade frictions and recriminations over the novel coronavirus pandemic.' Taiwan, meanwhile, has complained of increased Chinese military harassment since the coronavirus pandemic began, with fighter jets and naval vessels regularly approaching the island on drills China has described as 'routine'.