Taiwan reports renewed Chinese military activity less than week after war games end

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan reported renewed Chinese military activity nearby on Wednesday, saying China’s warships and warplanes were carrying out «joint combat readiness patrols», less than a week after Beijing ended two days of war games.

China said it carried out the war games that started last Thursday as «punishment» for President Lai Ching-te’s inauguration speech last week, in which he said the two sides of the Taiwan Strait were «not subordinate to each other». China saw this as a declaration the two are separate countries.

China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Lai rejects China’s sovereignty claims, saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, and has repeatedly offered talks with Beijing but been rebuffed.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said that from 3:20pm (0720 GMT) on Wednesday it had detected 28 Chinese military aircraft, including Su-30 fighters, operating around Taiwan and carrying out «joint combat readiness patrols» in conjunction with warships.

Eighteen of the Chinese aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line or areas nearby, and flew into airspace to the north, centre and southwest of Taiwan, the ministry said.

Speaking to reporters at parliament earlier on Wednesday, Taiwan National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Ming-yen said the aim of China’s drills last week was not to go to war.

«The purpose of the military exercises was to intimidate,» he said.

The drills were meant to show an external and domestic audience that Beijing «has absolute control over the situation in the Taiwan Strait», Tsai added.


In Beijing, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, reiterated its list of complaints about Lai being a dangerous supporter of Taiwan’s formal independence, and threatened continued Chinese military activity.

The drills were a «just action to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity», she said.

«As Taiwan’s provocations for independence continue, the People’s Liberation Army’s actions to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity continue.»

The government in Taipei says Taiwan is already an independent country, the Republic of China. The Republican government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists who set up the People’s Republic of China.

China says any decisions on Taiwan’s future are for all of China’s 1.4 billion people to make, not only Taiwan’s 23 million, and has offered a Hong Kong-style «one country, two systems» autonomy model, though that has almost no public support on the island, according to opinion polls.

«Different systems are not an obstacle to reunification, let alone an excuse for separation,» Zhu said.

China has never explained how it would integrate Taiwan’s vibrant democracy and direct election of its leaders into any plan to govern the island.

China has in the past four years sent its military to areas around Taiwan on an almost daily basis, as it seeks to exert pressure on the island.

But China also appeared to be trying to keep the scope of these drills contained, Tsai’s bureau said in a written report to lawmakers, noting there was no declaration of no-fly or no-sail zones and the exercises lasted only two days.

«The intention was to avoid the situation escalating and international intervention, but in the future it is feared (China) will continue its compound coercion against us, gradually changing the Taiwan Strait’s status quo,» it said.

Tsai added that Chinese forces mobilised almost as soon as China announced the drills early on Thursday.

«The speed was extremely fast, demonstrating rapid mobilisation capabilities,» he said.


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