China stages major new military drills around Taiwan as it warns US against ‘collusion’ with island

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China has said that it recently conducted joint combat exercises and drills around Taiwan, and warned the United States against military collusion with the island nation.

The statement was released on Friday, a day after US senator Rick Scott reached Taipei on a two-day visit to meet Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen.

China, which maintains that Taiwan is a part of its national territory even though Taipei has ruled itself since 1949, has beefed up its military activities around the east Asian nation, including flying a record number of warplanes into the island’s airspace.

In a statement, the Chinese defence ministry said that the military exercises, announced by the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), were organised in response to “collusion and provocations” by the United States and Taiwan.

China has been wary of any form of official interaction between Taiwan and the US, and has often described the island nation as a point of contention with Washington.

On Friday, several Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait in the northern part of the waterway, but did not enter Taiwanese airspace.

The aircraft “flew straight across” the median line and then “circled around”, carrying out tactical operations as Taiwan scrambled to intercept Chinese jets, a source told Reuters. “It was a clear message of provocation,” the person added.

The Chinese military conducted a similar exercise in May as a “solemn warning” after US president Joe Biden signalled a change in the policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan by saying America would get involved militarily if China attacked the island.

In June, Taiwan scrambled combat aircraft to warn away a fleet of 29 Chinese jets, including bombers, that entered its air defence zone in one of the largest incursions.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Beijing asked Washington to cease “military collusion” with Taiwan.

During a virtual meeting between the joint chiefs of staff of the two countries, China’s General Li Zuocheng told his American counterpart General Mark Milley that he had “no room for compromise” on issues affecting its “core interests”.

Chinese army General Li Zuocheng (centre) speaks during a meeting with US army chief of staff General Mark Milley, not shown, in Beijing on 16 August 2016 (AP)
Chinese army General Li Zuocheng (centre) speaks during a meeting with US army chief of staff General Mark Milley, not shown, in Beijing on 16 August 2016 (AP)

“China demands the US... cease reversing history, cease US-Taiwan military collusion and avoid impacting China-US ties and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” General Li said.

The PLA would “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he added, warning that if anyone created a “wanton provocation” they would be met with “firm counterattack from the Chinese people”.

Before the meeting, General Milley said Washington was “very, very closely” watching for signs of an attack by Beijing amid mounting concerns among 23 million Taiwanese.

“There are no indications or warnings of anything imminent at this time,” he added.

The crucial meeting comes a month after Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe accused the US at a regional security conference of trying to “hijack” the support of countries in the Asia-Pacific region to turn them against Beijing. The US was seeking to promote its interest in the region “under the guise of multilateralism”, he alleged.

At the same meeting, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin criticised China for causing instability with its claim to Taiwan and its military aggression in the area.

After meeting the Taiwanese president, senator Scott told reporters that it would be “helpful if Taiwan participated in Rimpac [Rim of the Pacific Exercise] and I hope that’s what happens in the future” in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Rimpac is the world’s largest international maritime exercise. The latest one kicked off late last month with 26 nations participating in drills around Hawaii and southern California.

“Taiwan will continue to work closely with the United States to jointly safeguard the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region,” the Taiwanese president told Mr Scott.

Amid growing tensions between the two world powers, US secretary of state Antony Blinken is due to meet Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi tomorrow, Saturday, at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali.

Additional reporting by agencies

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