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Taiwan’s defence ministry made the announcement late last night, claiming China had held air and naval drills between 7am and noon on Wednesday and Thursday. It called the drills a “severe provocation” and a threat to peace in the region.
The ministry said the drills took place between Taiwan’s south-western coast and the Taiwan-claimed Pratas Islands in the South China Sea.
The drills have also been described by a former Taiwanese military officer as the most serious threat to the security of Taiwan since 1996, when China conducted a controversial missile test, firing three M-9 ballistic missiles towards Taiwan which splashed down in nearby shipping lanes.
Major General Young Ching Se, an intelligence official from Taiwan’s defence ministry, accused China of conducting the drills near to Taiwan to encroach on its space.
He said, according to the FT: “Everyone knows about their intention to take Taiwan. So it is very obvious that they are using the pretext of an exercise to squeeze our operating space.”
Technically, the drills took place in both international waters and international airspace.
However, they were carried out on the Taiwanese side of what is known as the median line of the Taiwan Strait – an unofficial airspace boundary between Taiwan and China.
They also took place in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, an area in which fighters can be scrambled to investigate a foreign aircraft.
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Chang Che-ping, deputy defence minister for Taiwan, warned China not to “underestimate our determination to safeguard our homeland.”
He also said the airborne exercises by China was impacting on international flight safety because flight routes passed through the area.
The relationship between China and Taiwan is tense in part due to Taiwan’s insistence that it is an independent state rather than part of China.
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Beijing, on the other hand, sees Taiwan as a ‘breakaway province’ according to the BBC.
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview this year: “We are an independent country already and we call ourselves the Republic of China, Taiwan.”
Last month, Beijing sharply reprimanded the US for holding an official meeting between itself and Taiwan.
US health secretary Alex Azar visited the nation to discuss a closer relationship between the two countries, as well as Taiwan’s COVID-19 response.
However, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s for China’s Foreign Ministry, urged the US to “stop making official interactions of any kind with Taiwan, handle Taiwan-related issues prudently and properly, and not to send any wrong signals to “Taiwan independence” elements to avoid severe damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.
China and the US have accused one another of threatening peace in the South China Sea this year amid military drills.
The US has accused China of carrying out a “campaign of bullying” to control offshore resources in the region.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian hit back, calling the US a “trouble maker to peace and stability in the region.”
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