WASHINGTON - U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday said Chinese military flights near Taiwan look like "rehearsals" though he did not indicate that he expected Beijing actually to carry out such operations.
Cross-strait tensions have been rising in recent months, with Taiwan complaining for a year or more of repeated missions by China's air force near the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.
"I don't want to speculate, but certainly ... it looks a lot like rehearsals," Austin said while speaking at a conference in California.
Military training flights by definition are rehearsals for potential operations.
China has not ruled out using force to bring Taiwan under its control, despite the island's claim that it is an independent country that will defend its freedom and democracy.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)