China has conducted live-fire military drills along its southeast coast after increasingly stern warnings by Beijing for neighboring Taiwan to toe the line, but the exercises were more low key than had been flagged in state media, Reuters reports.
The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.
Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.
Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was taking place on China’s southeast coast.
While it did not provide an exact location, the report said the drills had attracted much attention in Taiwan and that they took place from 8 a.m. until midnight, giving the same time frame for the previously announced exercises in the Taiwan Strait.
State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles. The Global Times tabloid said last week amphibious landing operations and long-distance attacks were likely to be simulated.
Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said on Thursday the drills, which it described as routine and small scale, as well as the Chinese air force fly-by amounted to “military intimidation”.
“Our determination to defend the country’s sovereign dignity will never give in to any threat or inducement of force,” it said.
The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follow strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.
China’s hostility toward Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won a presidential election on the island in 2016.
China fears she wants to push for the island’s formal independence. Tsai says she is committed to peace and maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, but will defend Taiwan’s security.
Setting aside the tension with China, Tsai began a visit to the southern African nation of Swaziland on Wednesday, one of only 20 countries which maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
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