China holds military drills around Taiwan as 'punishment'

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Published: 5/23/2024 9:17:32 AM

China launched two days of military drills to surround self-ruled Taiwan on Thursday, May 23, in what it said was "strong punishment" for the island's "separatist acts". The drills 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. This will "test the joint real combat capabilities of the forces of the command", the Chinese military said.

Taiwan responded quickly to China's announcement on Thursday morning, announcing it had deployed forces to "defend freedom". "The Ministry of National Defence strongly condemned such irrational provocations and actions that undermine regional peace and stability. "We have dispatched sea, air and ground forces to respond... to defend freedom, democracy and the sovereignty of the Republic of China," it said, referring to Taiwan by its official name.

On Tuesday, China warned of strong reprisals to Lai's speech, in which he hailed a "glorious" new era of democracy for Taiwan. Top diplomat Wang Yi also warned that Taiwanese "separatists will be nailed to the pillar of shame in history". China had previously branded Lai a "dangerous separatist" who would bring "war and decline" to the island.

'Stern warning'

China's drills will "focus on joint sea-air combat-readiness patrol, joint seizure of comprehensive battlefield control, and joint precision strikes on key targets", spokesman for the People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command Naval Colonel Li Xi said. They are taking place in the Taiwan Strait and to the north, south and east of the island and kicked off at 7:45 am, Li said.

This week's drills will also take place around the outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, he added. "Ships and aircraft arrived at combat patrols near Taiwan Island... to test the actual joint combat capabilities of the theatre forces," Li said.

The drills would also 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", he said.

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 and has refused to rule out using military force to do so. Relations have plunged in recent years as China has stepped up pressure on the democratic island, periodically stoking worries about a potential invasion.

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