China carries out live fire drills, unclear if aimed at Taiwan

Reuters

Posted at Apr 19 2018 09:27 AM | Updated as of Apr 19 2018 12:18 PM

FILE PHOTO: Navy personnel of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea Thursday. Reuters Stringer

BEIJING - China's military has conducted live-fire drills along the country's southeastern coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the Chinese 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 Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to "provocations" by Taiwanese 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 a drill it simply located as happening on China's southeastern coast.

The exercises took place from 8 a.m. until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.

China's Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the drills and whether they were the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using "cheap verbal intimidation and sabre rattling" to threaten the island.

Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive issues and a potential military flash point. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the self-governed island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

China claims democratic Taiwan as its own and considers the island a breakaway province.

China's hostility towards Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections on the island in 2016.

China fears she wishes 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 tensions with China, Tsai began a visit to the southern African nation of Swaziland on Wednesday, one of only 20 countries which still maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.