China has flown an array of military aircraft around Taiwan in a fresh show of force aimed at pro-independence forces in the self-ruled island nation.
According to a statement released by China’s People's Liberation Army Air Force, H-6K bombers, early warning aircraft, reconnaissance planes and several types of warplanes took off from multiple airports to perform “combat drills” on Thursday.
It noted that the military aircraft flew over Bashi Strait, south of Taiwan and the Miyako Strait, near Japan's Okinawa Island, adding that the H-6K bombers had completed several exercises circling Taiwan since April 18 in a bid “to strengthen its capacity, [and] to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Speaking to a regular monthly press conference on Thursday, Defense Ministry Spokesman Wu Qian also said that the operations conducted by the army were directed at “independence forces and activities” in the island nation.
“Their purpose is to prevent that the Taiwan independence forces’ plot damages the welfare of the Taiwanese people. If the independence forces continue to wantonly take rash actions, we will take further actions," Wu further said.
He also said that the Chinese army had dispatched planes, along with warships, to the region to monitor activities there and to ensure maritime and airspace security of the island, and to see whether there were any “abnormal situations.”
China regards the self-ruled Taiwan, which has never formally declared independence from the mainland China and is not a member of the United Nations, as a renegade part of its territory to be brought back into the fold, and has not ruled out reunification by force. Beijing sees the island as an inalienable part of “One China.”
On Tuesday, Taiwanese officials said that they would practice thwarting a Chinese “invasion” in annual live-fire drills in June.
China has so far held several military exercises around Taiwan, including flying bombers and other military aircraft -- the latest of which conducted last week in the Taiwan Strait -- since Taiwan’s pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016.
The maneuvers by China come at a time of tension between Beijing and Taipei and follow a strong warning by Chinese President Xi Jinping last month against any separatist drive by Taiwan. The Chinese leader also presided over the navy’s largest-ever military display earlier this month in the South China Sea, which involved 76 fighter jets and a flotilla of 48 warships and submarines.
Taiwan remains one of the most sensitive issues in China and a potential flashpoint. Beijing expects countries that have committed to the 'One China' policy to have no official relations with Taiwan and recognize Chinese sovereignty over the island.
Taiwan carried out its own war games along its east coast earlier this month, with Tsai in attendance.
China’s ‘Guam Killer’ missile can hit US base in Pacific
Elsewhere in his remarks, Wu confirmed that the Chinese army had begun putting into service the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile that the Chinese media has dubbed the “Guam killer,” for its ability to target the US Pacific Ocean base on Guam Island with a conventional or nuclear weapon.
Little is known about the ballistic missile, which first appeared in a major military parade in Beijing back in 2015.
China’s military drills may further serve as a warning to Washington, which dispatched an aircraft carrier through the disputed South China Sea earlier this month.
The US shifted diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but has kept trade ties with the island and remains its top supplier of weapons.
The administration of US President Donald Trump, in particular, has several times angered China over matters related to Taiwan. Last month, Trump signed new rules that would allow senior US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa.