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China rehearses ‘sealing off’ Taiwan, US deploys naval destroyer

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China held three days of military exercises in response to Taiwan's president meeting with the US House speaker © GREG BAKER

China simulated “sealing off” Taiwan during a third day of wargames around the self-ruled island on Monday, as the United States deployed a naval destroyer into Beijing-claimed waters in a show of force.

A Taiwanese Mirage fighter jet prepares to land at an air force base in Hsinchu as Taipei said it was closely monitoring Beijing's actions

A Taiwanese Mirage fighter jet prepares to land at an air force base in Hsinchu as Taipei said it was closely monitoring Beijing’s actions© Jameson WU

China launched the exercises in response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen last week meeting US House speaker Kevin McCarthy, an encounter it had warned would provoke a furious response.

After two days of exercises that included simulating targeted strikes on Taiwan and encirclement of the island, the Chinese military said the wargames also included “sealing” it off.

One of China’s two aircraft carriers also “participated in today’s exercise,” the military said.

The United States, which had repeatedly called for China to show restraint, on Monday sent the guided-missile destroyer the USS Milius through contested parts of the South China Sea.

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea,” the US Navy said in a statement

It added the vessel had passed near the Spratly Islands — an archipelago claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. It is about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from Taiwan.

Tourists on Sunday were wandering the beaches of Pingtan, where live-fire exercises were slated for the following day

Tourists on Sunday were wandering the beaches of Pingtan, where live-fire exercises were slated for the following day© GREG BAKER

The deployment of the Milius immediately triggered more anger from China, which said the vessel had “illegally intruded” into its territorial waters.

– ‘No war’ –

On Beigan island, part of Taiwan’s Matsu archipelago that is within eyesight of China’s mainland, 60-year-old chef Lin Ke-qiang told AFP he simply did not want war.

“We, common people, just want to live peaceful and stable lives,” Lin said, adding Taiwan’s military was no match for China’s.

“If any war happens, now that their missiles are so advanced, there’s no way our side could resist. This side will be levelled to the ground.”

China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949. China views democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to take it one day.

The United States has been deliberately ambiguous on whether it would defend Taiwan militarily.

But for decades it has sold weapons to Taipei to help ensure its self-defence, and offered political support.

Tsai met McCarthy outside Los Angeles on her way home from a visit with two allied countries in Central America.

In August last year, China deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest show of force in years following a trip to the island by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.

Tsai met with McCarthy last week in the United States, rather than in Taiwan.

This was viewed as a compromise that would underscore support for Taiwan but avoid inflaming tensions with Beijing.

But China had repeatedly warned against any meeting, and began the latest wargames soon after Tsai returned to Taiwan.

“These operations serve as a stern warning against the collusion between separatist forces seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and external forces and against their provocative activities,” said Shi Yin, a PLA spokesman, said about “Joint Sword”.

Tsai responded to the drills by pledging to work with “the US and other like-minded countries” in the face of “continued authoritarian expansionism”.

– Live-fire exercises –

Exercises on Monday were set to include live-fire drills off the rocky coast of China’s Fujian province, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the Matsu islands and 190 kilometres from Taipei.

The local maritime authority said the exercises would be held between 7:00 am and 8:00 pm around Pingtan, a southeastern island that is China’s nearest point to Taiwan.

AFP journalists on Pingtan did not see any immediate military activity in an offshore area on Monday.

A video published Monday to the Eastern Theatre Command’s official WeChat account showed a pilot saying he had “arrived near the northern part of Taiwan Island”, with missiles “locked into place”.

In another video with dramatic orchestral accompaniment, the pierce of an officer’s whistle sends military personnel running into position as a simulated barrage on Taiwan unfolds on screen.

burs-je-oho/kma

AFP

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