(Photo credit SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

Taiwan almost inadvertently started a war with its arch-enemy China after the country’s warship mistakenly launched a supersonic “aircraft carrier killer” missile towards China on Friday, the navy has said.

China still insists that self-ruling Taiwan is part of its territory, even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war, and has not ruled out using force to bring about reunification.

The domestically developed Hsiung-feng III (Brave Wind) missile, with a range of 300 kilometres (around 200 miles), flew about 75 kilometres before plunging into the waters off Penghu, a Taiwanese-administered island group in the Taiwan Strait.

The navy said it was not immediately clear how the missile was launched but added that it was not ruling out human error.

Our initial investigation found that the operation was not done in accordance with normal procedure,” Vice Admiral Mei Chia-shu told reporters, adding that an investigation was under way.

The missile was fired during a drill at around 8:10 am (0010 GMT) from a 500-tonne missile ship docked at a naval base in the southern city of Tsoying and flew in the direction of China.

Helicopters and navy ships were sent to search for the missile, Mei said. He added that the military had reported the error to the country’s highest security body, the National Security Conference.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which handles China policy, refused to comment on whether the incident had been reported to the Chinese government.

Ties between both countries have deteriorated considerably after  President Tsai Ing-wen of the anti-China Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected in January.