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China holds combat readiness patrol after visit by US lawmakers to Taipei

The Chinese Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied by frigates and submarines on April 12, 2018, conducting exercises in the South China Sea. (File photo by AP)

China has conducted a "combat readiness patrol" near the Taiwan Strait following a visit to Chinese Taipei by members of the US Congress, which sparked immediate condemnation from Beijing.

In a statement on Tuesday, Senior Colonel Shi Yi, spokesperson for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command, said the drills had been conducted to "further improve the joint combat capability of multiple military services and branches," adding that they were aimed at the "seriously wrong" words and actions of "relevant countries" on the Taipei issue and the activities of the so-called "independence" forces on the self-ruled island.

Shi said the military operation had been a necessary measure to safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, stressing that the Chinese military had always been on high alert and "will take all necessary measures to resolutely fight back against all provocative acts that jeopardize China's core interests and undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

Later in the day, Taipei's defense ministry reported that six Chinese military aircraft, including four J-16 fighter jets and two surveillance planes, had entered its self-declared southwestern air defense zone.

The latest development came after a delegation of US lawmakers arrived in Taipei on a military aircraft.

Tan Kefei, spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense, voiced strong opposition to the visit, and condemned Washington for "grossly interfering in China's internal affairs."

"The US act has wantonly interfered in China's internal affairs, seriously undermined China's territorial sovereignty, and posed a severe threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan region," Ta said.

He further urged the US to stop "provocative actions" and "destructive moves" that may escalate tensions across the Taiwan Strait, and refrain from sending false signals to Taipei's "independence separatists."

Zhu Fenglian, spokeswoman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, similarly condemned the visit, but played down the notion that war was imminent. "We urge everyone not to believe or spread rumors," Zhu said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Taipei's premier Su Tseng-chang has described the self-ruled island's relations with Washington as "very important," saying he respected "mutual visits between friends" when asked about the visit.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has also said congressional delegation visits to Taipei "are fairly routine," adding that it is "not uncommon" for delegates to travel on a military aircraft.

Kirby did not provide details on who had been on the flight, but said this was the second such congressional trip to Taipei this year.

China has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei, and under the "One China" policy, almost all world countries recognize that sovereignty. The US, too, recognizes Chinese sovereignty over the island but has long courted Taipei in an attempt to unnerve Beijing.

The United States, which backs Taipei's secessionist president, also continues to sell weapons to the island in defiance of Beijing and in violation of its own stated policy.

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