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China military holds combat exercises around Taiwan as US senator visits

Fighter jets of the PLA Southern Theater Command taxi on the runway before taking off in the real-combat flight training on May 11, 2022. (File photo via China Military)

China’s military says it recently held joint combat readiness exercises, patrols, and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan as a senior US senator visited the self-ruled island.

The eastern theater command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in a statement on Friday said the drills were held in response to "collusion and provocations" by the United States and Chinese Taipei.

Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry, said several Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait in the northern part of the waterway, hastening to add that the aircraft stopped short of entering Taiwan's airspace.

Reuters news agency cited a Taiwanese source as saying that it was rare for Chinese aircraft to cross the unofficial buffer, especially from the island’s northwest.

The unnamed source said the aircraft "flew straight across" the median line and then "circled around" during tactical operations, adding that Taipei scrambled fighter jets to intercept the Chinese planes.

"It was a clear message of provocation," the source said, citing Friday's visit to Taipei by US Senator Rick Scott, a senior Republican who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and sits on the Senate's Armed Services Committee.

The Chinese Taipei’s Air Force, however, said it has a "full grasp" of the situation in the area and is "actively" defending national security, without further elaboration.

The Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said Scott's visit to Taipei had seriously undermined Sino-US relations and escalated tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

"The US side's move seriously violates the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-US joint communiqués, seriously damages the political foundation of Sino-U.S. relations, seriously undermines the relationship between the two countries and the two militaries, and escalates tensions in the Taiwan Strait region," Wu said.

"The Chinese People's Liberation Army is ready for war at all times, and will take all necessary measures to resolutely thwart the interference of external forces and the secessionist attempts of 'Taiwan independence', and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Scott arrived in Taipei on Thursday and met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday.

President Tsai said at a meeting with the Republican senator that Taiwan will “continue to work closely with the United States to jointly safeguard the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.”

Under the “One China” policy, almost all world countries recognize China's sovereignty over Chinese Taipei. The US, too, recognizes the principle but has long courted Taipei in an attempt to unnerve Beijing. 

The US, which backs Taipei’s secessionist president, also continues to sell weapons to the island in violation of its own stated policy.

Since the beginning of this year, the United States has approved the sale of up to $95 million worth of training and equipment to support Taipei's Patriot missile system, according to Pentagon.

The first major arms sale to Taipei under President Joe Biden happened last August, which saw the approval of 40 Howitzer artillery systems.

Last year, the US sold arms to Taiwan that included drones and coastal missile defenses aimed at upgrading the island’s capabilities against mainland China.

China, in response, has been stepping up its defensive activities near Taipei to assert its sovereignty claims and oppose US military moves.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is expected to meet with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Saturday at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali. 

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