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China holds military drills off southeastern coast in wake of US approval of Taiwan arms deal

Chinese President Xi Jingping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, arrive for a concert at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. (Bernd Von Jutrczenka/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS)

China’s military carried out air and naval drills off its southeastern coast in “recent days,” the Defense Ministry said in a brief statement Sunday, a move that comes less than a week after the U.S. approved a $2.2 billion arms deal for self-ruled Taiwan.

The statement did not give the exact location or timing of the exercises, but it claimed they were “routine arrangements in accordance with annual plans for the military.”

China’s southeastern coast faces self-governed and democratic Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary.

Last Monday, the U.S. State Department OK’d the possible sale of an arms package requested by Taiwan that includes 108 General Dynamics Corp. M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, among other weapons.

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 says Washington has sold Taipei more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

The exercises came as Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, transited through New York for a tour of diplomatic allies in the Caribbean. Tsai made a brief visit to Haiti on Saturday, without unveiling new spending commitments, as she courts Taipei’s dwindling allies in the Caribbean in a diplomatic struggle with China.

In a statement released Sunday, Taiwan’s Presidential Office cited Tsai Ming-yen, the deputy secretary-general of the country’s national security council, as saying that President Tsai had spoken by telephone with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while she was in the United States and met with other senators and members of Congress, without naming them.

The Taiwanese leader said Taipei and Washington can both forge even closer ties. She also thanked the United States for “the importance it attaches to the security of the Taiwan Strait” and the arms deal, according to the statement.

The arms deal and visit by Tsai was going ahead despite Chinese criticism — and threats of sanctions on U.S. firms involved in the package — but also comes amid the protracted trade war and between Washington and Beijing.

In an editorial Friday, China’s hawkish state-run Global Times tabloid linked Tsai’s visit with the trade war, saying that the U.S. and Taiwan were using the transit “as a card against the Chinese mainland.”

“Allowing Tsai to make a transit stop in the U.S. and enhance her profile there is by far the highest-level stopover the U.S. has provided to leaders from the island,” it said. “Obviously, this is related to the China-U.S. trade war.”

The editorial also threatened the possibility of military action against Taipei “if the collusion between the U.S. and Taiwan goes too far.”

“If the DPP administration’s tactics keep snowballing, military strikes will be carried out by the mainland sooner or later,” it said.

China has grown suspicious of the Taiwanese leader and the DPP, along with any push for the island’s formal independence.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in January that Beijing reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control, but would strive to achieve peaceful “reunification.”

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, sending navy warships and coast guard vessels through the strategic waterway several times this year.


© 2019 the Japan Times (Tokyo)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.