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Taiwan dispatches forces to areas around island after China starts ‘punishment’ drills

Taiwan’s military mobilized its forces and said it was confident it could protect the island, after China started two days of “punishment” drills around Taiwan on Thursday in what it said was a response to “separatist acts”.

The exercises, in the Taiwan Strait and around groups of Taiwan-controlled islands that sit next to the Chinese coast, come just three days after Lai Ching-te took office as Taiwan’s new president, a man Beijing detests as a “separatist”.

China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has denounced Lai’s inauguration speech on Monday, in which he called on China to stop its threats and on Tuesday Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Lai “disgraceful“.

Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but been rebuffed. He says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, and rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims.

The Eastern Theatre Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it had started joint military drills, involving the army, navy, air force and rocket force, in areas around Taiwan at 7:45 a.m. (2345 GMT).

The drills are being conducted in the Taiwan Strait, the north, south and east of Taiwan, as well as areas around the Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, the command said in a statement.

Taiwan’s defense ministry condemned the drills, saying that it had dispatched forces to areas around the island and was confident it could protect its territory.

“The launch of military exercises on this occasion not only does not contribute to the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, it also highlights (China’s) militaristic mentality,” the ministry said.

A senior Taiwan official, speaking anonymously given the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters that the drills are part of a scenario Taiwan had anticipated and that the island’s government has a “comprehensive grasp” of Chinese military movements.

Taiwanese officials had said in the run-up to the inauguration they were keeping watch for Chinese military movements.

The drills focus on joint sea-air combat-readiness patrols, precision strikes on key targets, and integrated operations inside and outside the island chain to test the “joint real combat capabilities” of the forces, China’s military said.

“This is also a strong punishment for the separatist acts of Taiwan independence forces and a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces,” the command added.

Chinese state media published a map of the drills zones, in five areas all around Taiwan and the islands Taiwan controls near the Chinese coast.

Su Tzu-yun, a research fellow at Taiwan’s top military think tank, the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that although the drills would only last two days, the scope is large relative to previous exercises, as they included Taiwan’s outlying islands.

This is designed to demonstrate China’s ability to control the seas and prevent the involvement of foreign forces, he added.

“The political signals here are greater than the military ones,” he added.

There was no sign of alarm in Taiwan, where people are long used to Chinese military activity. The benchmark stock index .TWII, currently at a historic high, was up 0.2% on Thursday morning.

The drills will have a short-term psychological impact, but won’t reverse the long-term upward trend of Taiwan stocks,” said Mega International Investment Services vice president Alex Huang.

In August 2022, China launched live-fire military exercises around Taiwan immediately after a visit, much condemned by Beijing, by former U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi. That series of exercises, the scale of which was unprecedented, lasted for four days, followed by several days of additional drills. – Reuters

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