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Taiwan scrambles warplanes as China holds aerial drills nearby

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo of Taiwanese domestically built Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) taking part in a live-fire military drill. (Photo by Reuters)

Taiwan's air force has scrambled its jet fighters for a second consecutive day as numerous Chinese warplanes crossed the sensitive midline of the Taiwan Strait, with Taipei’s officials urging Beijing to "pull back from the edge."

Taiwan's Defense Ministry declared on Saturday that 19 Chinese aircraft took part in the aerial drill, some of which crossed the so-called median line dividing the Strait and entered Taiwan's southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

It further said China, which regards Taiwan as its own territory, deployed 12 J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft for the maneuver, but none got close to mainland Taiwan itself or flew over it.

"ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities," the ministry also wrote in a Twitter message, referring to the Republic of China Air Force, the formal name of Taiwan's air force.

This is while, Beijing had announced during a press conference on Friday China's UN peacekeeping efforts as well as its combat drills near the Taiwan Strait while censuring what it described as collusion between Taipei and Washington following a visit to the island territory by a senior US diplomat that enraged China. 

Moreover, in a separate statement, Taiwan's defense ministry also accused China of conducting provocative activities and seriously damaging peace and stability.

"The Defense Ministry sternly condemns this, and calls on the mainland authorities to control themselves and pull back from the edge," it said.

However, China’s widely-read Global Times daily described the Chinese aerial drills in a Saturday editorial as a practice run to take over Taiwan, insisting, "The US and Taiwan must not misjudge the situation, or believe the exercise is a bluff. Should they continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out."

Senior US diplomat ends Taiwan visit as China flexes muscle

The development came as US State Department’s Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach began his 3-day tour of Taiwan on Thursday as the most senior American diplomat to visit the island territory in four decades, and attended the funeral for former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui on Saturday which also featured Tibetan separatist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The visit triggered an immediate rebuke from Beijing, which opposes any recognition of Taiwan and has launched a decades-long policy of isolating the territory it considers as a renegade province.

It came as the hawkish US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of "military blustering" after Beijing carried out its aerial drills on Friday near the Taiwan Strait during Krach's visit.

Krach did not make any remarks during the service while in a pre-recorded video the US-backed Dalai Lama praised Lee's commitment to democracy.

Krach on Friday also held closed-door meetings with Taiwan's premier and other top officials before joining President Tsai Ing-wen for dinner at her official residence.

"I'm sure the productive discussions we had today will bring Taiwan & the US even closer together & open the door to further collaboration," Tsai said in a Twitter message afterwards.

Washington's growing outreach to Taiwan under the Trump administration has become yet another flashpoint with Beijing as the two economic and military powers clash over a range of issues, including trade, security, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

China launches sanctions regime as US moves on TikTok, WeChat

Meanwhile, Beijing launched on Saturday a mechanism that would allow it to sanction foreign companies, raising the stakes in a raging tech war with the US a day after Washington moved to rein in popular Chinese apps – ByteDance-owned TikTok and Tencent-owned WeChat.

China's long-expected "unreliable entities list" is regarded as a weapon for Beijing to retaliate against Washington, which has used its own "entity list" to shut Chinese telecom giant Huawei out of the US market, while also moving against TikTok and WeChat.

Its implementation comes just a day after the US Commerce Department intensified the pressure by ordering a ban on downloads of video app TikTok and effectively blocking the use of WeChat, the Chinese super-app.

An announcement by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce did not point to any specific foreign entities that could be targeted.

However, it did state that the new system would consider sanctions on entities whose activities "harm China's national sovereignty, security, and development interests" or violate "internationally accepted economic and trade rules."

Punitive measures may include fines against the foreign entity, banning it from conducting trade and investment in China, and restrictions on the entry of personnel or equipment into the country.

It covers "foreign enterprises, other organizations and individuals," the ministry noted.

Under Friday's US order against the Chinese apps, WeChat would lose functionality in the US effective Sunday. TikTok users, on the other hand, will be banned from installing updates but could keep accessing the service through November 12.

That time frame potentially allows for a tie-up between TikTok and a US company to safeguard data for the wildly popular app to alleviate Washington's supposed security concerns.

As the US President Donald Trump faces an uphill re-election battle, his administration officials have described the measures as essential to safeguard national security from alleged Chinese espionage through the platforms.

China slams US 'bullying' over Tiktok, WeChat

Reacting to the US moves, however, China's Commerce Ministry censured on Saturday what it described as Washington’s "bullying," insisting that it violated international trade norms and that there was no evidence of any security threat.

The ministry further suggested in a statement that it may take unspecified countermeasures after Washington banned the widely popular Chinese apps, saying, "China urges the US to abandon bullying, cease (its) wrongful actions and earnestly maintain fair and transparent international rules and order."  

"If the US insists on going its own way, China will take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies," it added.

Meanwhile, TikTok vowed to challenge the Trump crackdown in court, saying it impedes a tool "for entertainment, self-expression and connection."

Critics of the move in the US maintain that while the security risks were unclear, the sweeping ban raises concerns about the American government's ability to regulate free expression.

"It's a mistake to think of this as (only) a sanction on TikTok and WeChat. It's a serious restriction on the First Amendment rights of US citizens and residents," said the director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, Jameel Jaffer.

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