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Taiwan scrambles jets after Chinese military exercises in South China Sea

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)
This undated photo purportedly taken at the Ching Chuan Kang Air Base in Taichung, Taiwan shows five parked F-CK-1 jet-fighters, commonly known as the Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF).

Taiwan's air force has scrambled jets for two straight days after the Chinese military carried out drills in the South China Sea.

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry said in Taipei that Chinese military forces had launched air and sea exercises near the disputed Pratas Islands in the South China Sea, prompting the air force to scramble its fighters and deploy missile systems for a second straight day on Saturday.

The air force scrambled, with "radio warnings issued and air defense missile systems deployed to monitor the activity," the ministry said.

China considers self-ruled Taiwan a breakaway province that should be reunited with the mainland under the internationally-recognized “One China” policy. Almost all world countries, including the US, recognize that sovereignty.

Beijing has not commented on the last two days of activities.

China has, in the past, said its military exercises near Taiwan are a “solemn warning” to secessionist factions in the self-ruled island and their foreign backers, particularly, the United States.

Shortly before the ministry's statement, Taiwan announced a reshuffle of senior security officials including a new, US-trained defense minister, to help bolster military modernization and intelligence efforts.

National Security Bureau Director-General Chiu Kuo-cheng, who graduated from the US Army War College in 1999, would replace Yen De-fa as defense minister, Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang told reporters.

A spokesman for the US State Department said on Saturday that China should “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan.”

He called on Beijing to “instead engage in meaningful dialogue” with Taipei.

Taiwan's pro-independence government under President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged to defend the island and has made modernizing its armed forces a priority, including developing a fleet of new submarines, buying new F-16 fighters from the United States and upgrading its warships.

The US is the island’s largest weapons supplier and an avid backer of Taiwan’s secessionist president.

China has pursued reunification with Taiwan ever since the island broke away from the mainland during a civil war in 1949.

Beijing claims sovereignty over the Pratas Islands.

Earlier in January, the administration of former US president Donald Trump lifted the decades-long ban on diplomatic ties with Taiwanese officials in a last-ditch effort to challenge China’s sovereignty.

China has repeatedly warned the US against official ties with the self-ruled island.

Early this month, a US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, in the first such voyage since the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Beijing has on several occasions advised Washington to refrain from conducting military activities in the region that could provoke potential close encounters by the air and naval forces of the two countries.

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