BEIJING/TAPEI – China said Wednesday its recent series of exercises near Taiwan is aimed at countering the “arrogance” of separatist forces, while the front-runner to become Taiwan’s next president said China was trying to “seize” the island annex”.
Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, said this month it had sighted dozens of warplanes, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships and the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong, operating nearby.
The increased frequency of Chinese military activities has increased the risk of events “getting out of control” and causing an accidental clash, the island’s defense minister warned.
Asked about the increase in the number of exercises and Taiwan’s concerns about the increased risk, Zhu Fenglian, the spokeswoman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, acknowledged the People’s Liberation Army exercises.
“The aim is to resolutely combat the arrogance of Taiwan’s separatist independence forces and their actions to seek independence,” Zhu told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
“The provocation of Taiwan’s independence continues all day long, and the People’s Liberation Army’s actions to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity always continue,” she added.
She urged people in Taiwan to distinguish between “good and evil”, firmly oppose the island’s independence and work with China to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
China has a particularly strong dislike for William Lai, the front-runner who was elected president in the island’s January elections over past comments in support of independence.
However, he says he is not trying to change the status quo and has offered talks with Beijing.
The situation across the Taiwan Strait had “not improved with the passage of time,” said Lai, now the island’s vice president.
“China’s efforts to annex Taiwan have not changed,” he said on Wednesday at an event in Taipei marking the 37th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
CHINESE MINISTER OF DEFENSE
The Chinese military has not explicitly mentioned or commented on the exercises at a time when Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu has disappeared from public view. Sources have told Reuters he is being investigated for corruption.
Taiwan’s democratically elected government says only the island’s people can decide their future and has repeatedly offered talks with China, which Beijing has rejected.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported further Chinese military moves. It said it had detected and responded to 16 Chinese aircraft entering the island’s air defense identification zone in the past 24 hours.
Of those, 12 crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which had served as an unofficial barrier between the two sides until China began crossing it regularly in August last year.
On Thursday, Taiwan will launch the first of eight domestically made submarines to strengthen its defenses against China.
When asked in Beijing about the submarines, Zhu said attempts by Taiwan’s DPP to “pursue independence by force” would only worsen tensions and “push the Taiwanese people into a dangerous situation.”
In an unusual revelation last week, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said it was monitoring Chinese exercises in southern Fujian province, opposite Taiwan. Normally, Taiwan only details exercises in the air and the waters around it.
A senior Taiwanese official familiar with security planning in the region told Reuters the information was released to demonstrate Taiwan’s surveillance and intelligence capabilities.
“We can see the details and we are prepared,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Chinese military has also not commented on the Fujian exercises.