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China holds military drills around Taiwan as 'punishment'

US general says Beijing's military drills around Taiwan 'concerning'

By AFP

May 23, 2024 08:37 AM


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China on Thursday launched two days of military drills to surround self-ruled Taiwan in what it said was "strong punishment" for the island's "separatist acts".

The war games come after Lai Ching-te was sworn in as Taiwan's new president this week and made an inauguration speech that China denounced as a "confession of independence".

Communist China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary.

Thursday and Friday's drills involve military aircraft and naval vessels surrounding the island to test their combat capabilities, China's People's Liberation Army announced.

Taiwan responded quickly to China's announcement on Thursday morning, saying it had deployed sea, air and ground forces to "defend freedom".

"The Ministry of National Defence strongly condemned such irrational provocations and actions that undermine regional peace and stability," it said.

China has previously branded Lai a "dangerous separatist" who would bring "war and decline" to the island.

On Tuesday, it warned of strong reprisals to Lai's inauguration speech, in which he vowed to continue to build up Taiwan's defence capabilities.

"In face of the many threats and attempts of infiltration from China, we must demonstrate our resolution to defend our nation," said Lai, 64.

- 'Kill independence' -

The drills, which began at 7:45 am (2345 GMT Wednesday), are taking place in the Taiwan Strait and to the north, south and east of the island, PLA Eastern Theater Command Naval Colonel Li Xi said.

They serve as a "strong punishment for the separatist acts of 'Taiwan independence' forces and a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces", Li said.

As the drills -- dubbed "Joint Sword-2024A" -- were launched, commentary on state Chinese broadcaster CCTV declared them "a powerful disciplinary action" against Taiwanese separatism.

China's military put out a series of posters touting what it called its "cross-strait lethality". They featured rockets, jets and naval vessels next to blood-stained text.

One showed rockets being fired at an island, while another showed tanks emerging from the sea.

"The weapon aimed at 'Taiwan independence' to kill 'independence' is already in place," it declared.

- 'Strong message' -

Beijing, which split with Taipei at the end of a civil war in 1949, regards the island as a renegade province with which it must eventually be reunified.

Relations have plunged in recent years as China has stepped up pressure on the democratic island of 23 million people, periodically stoking worries about a potential invasion.

"(China) clearly feels it needs to send a very strong message to Lai and anyone who supports him", analyst Bill Bishop wrote in his influential Sinocism newsletter.

"I would be surprised if this new exercise is smaller and less threatening than any last year," he said.

The last time China announced similar military exercises around Taiwan was in August 2023 after Lai, then vice president, stopped over in the United States on a visit to Paraguay.

Those drills also tested the PLA's ability "to seize control of air and sea spaces" and fight "in real combat conditions", according to state media.

Beijing at the time described them as a "stern warning".

They followed April drills that simulated the encirclement of the island, launched after Lai's predecessor Tsai Ing-wen met then-US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.

China also launched major military exercises in 2022 after Nancy Pelosi, then the speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan.

World powers are keen to see as much stability as possible between China and Taiwan, not least because of the vital role the island plays in the global economy.

The Taiwan Strait is one of the world's most important maritime trade arteries, and the island itself is a major tech manufacturer, particularly of vital semiconductors -- the tiny chips used in everything from smartphones to missile systems.

The United States switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979 but remains the island's most important ally and supplier of military hardware.

US President Joe Biden has said he does not support Taiwan's independence but also that he would back sending forces to defend the island. The official US position on intervention is one of ambiguity.

US general says Beijing's military drills around Taiwan 'concerning'

China's military drills around self-ruled Taiwan were expected but "concerning", US Lieutenant General Stephen Sklenka said Thursday.

"We expected something like this, frankly," the US Indo-Pacific Command deputy commander told an audience in Canberra.

"Just because we expect that behaviour does not mean we that we should not condemn it and we need to condemn it publicly," he said.

"It is concerning."

Sklenka said other nations besides the United States should speak out against the drills.

"It's one thing when the United States condemns the Chinese, but there's a far more powerful effect, I believe, when it comes from nations within this region," the lieutenant general told reporters.

"I also believe in my heart of hearts that conflict between our two nations is not inevitable, and it's not a foregone conclusion."

Sklenka said he believed the "target" of China's exercises was its own domestic population, not the international community.


AFP


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