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China announces military exercises in areas near Taiwan in South and East China seas

Members of a Chinese military honor guard. (Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF/Released)

China has announced large-scale military exercises in broad swaths of the waters and airspace in both the South and East China seas near Taiwan, days after Beijing said in a defense white paper that it will not renounce the use of force in efforts to reunify Taipei with the mainland.

In two notices posted to the website of China’s Maritime Safety Administration late Sunday and early Monday, the body said that entering a large chunk of the airspace and waters off the coast of Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces was prohibited.

The warning said exercises off Zhejiang were scheduled to run through Thursday, while the one for Guangdong would conclude Friday.

China’s state-run Global Times tabloid said in a report Monday that the drills had been expected to involve “all military branches of the People’s Liberation Army, and serve as a warning to Taiwan secessionists.”

The notices did not mention any other details and China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan has been closely monitoring the situation in the strait to ensure safety and regional stability, the country’s Defense Ministry said.

“The national army continues to reinforce its key defense capacity and is definitely confident and capable of defending the nation’s security,” it said in a statement.

The island held its own annual military exercises in May, vowing to defend itself against China’s growing threat.

In its first defense white paper in seven years, China lambasted Taiwan on Wednesday over allegations of “separatism,” with Beijing warning that its armed forces were bolstering their military preparedness for such a contingency.

“The PLA will resolutely defeat anyone attempting to separate Taiwan from China and safeguard national unity at all costs,” the paper said.

China views self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary — while frequently targeting Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, with invectives.

Taiwan, a democratically governed island, split from the Communist Party-ruled mainland after the civil war ended in 1949. China maintains that Taiwan is part of its territory and seeks “complete reunification.”

Speaking at a news conference for the white paper’s release, Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the threat of Taiwan separatism is growing and warned that those who are seeking independence would meet a dead end.

“If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will certainly fight, resolutely defending the country’s sovereign unity and territorial integrity,” Wu said.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department OK’d a possible $2.2 billion arms package requested by Taiwan that includes 108 General Dynamics Corp. M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, among other weapons.

The move stoked China’s ire and prompted it to threaten sanctions against the U.S.

“China resolutely opposes the wrong practices and provocative activities of the U.S. side regarding arms sales to Taiwan,” the paper said.

The U.S. has no formal ties with Taipei but is bound by its Taiwan Relations Act to help it defend itself, and Washington is the island’s main source of arms. The Pentagon said Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it made the request in light of an increasing military threat from China.

Beijing has called Taiwan “the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations” and has bolstered its military presence near the island, sailing its sole operating aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait in January and March of last year and holding large-scale “encirclement” exercises and bomber training throughout last year and into this year.

The U.S. has also ramped up the frequency of its transits of the Taiwan Strait — much to the chagrin of China — dispatching navy warships and coast guard vessels through the strategic waterway several times this year, including a passage through the strait last Wednesday and Thursday.

China has maintained its hard-line stance on Taiwan, with an editorial in the state-run China Daily on Thursday claiming that the rationale behind the latest U.S. warship dispatch to the strait was “seemingly explicit, since the move coincided with the release of China’s white paper.”

“It seems Washington was raising a finger to what the white paper said about China’s determination to defend its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the editorial said.

“But the U.S. should not carelessly dismiss this as empty bluster,” it went on. “If it thinks that Beijing will not deliver on this commitment, it is in for a rude awakening.”


© 2019 the Japan Times (Tokyo)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.