China holds large-scale military drills near Taiwan

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Jan. 9 (UPI) — China conducted combat exercises near Taiwan, both militaries announced, sending dozens of aircraft and naval vessels near the self-governing island in what Beijing said was a response to “provocation and collusion by external forces.”

A spokesman for the Eastern Theater of China’s People’s Liberation Army said late Sunday that the military held “joint combat readiness patrols and actual combat exercises … focusing on land strikes and sea assaults.”

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The drills “resolutely counter[ed] the collusion and provocation of external forces and ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” the spokesman, Senior Col. Shi Yi, said.

Beijing considers the democratic island of 23 million a wayward province and has vowed to seize control of it by force if necessary. Taiwan has never been a part of the mainland People’s Republic of China, which was founded in 1949, and rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims.

Taiwan’s defense ministry reported Monday that dozens of Chinese aircraft entered its air defense identification zone, with some crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, over a 24-hour period starting Sunday morning.

The ministry reported that it had tracked 57 Chinese aircraft and four ships, with 28 planes and drones either crossing the median or entering the southern part of the island’s ADIZ, including six Shenyang J-11 fighter jets, two Sukhoi Su-30 fighter planes and two Chengdu J-10 jet fighters.

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Taiwan responded with aircraft, naval ships and land-based missiles to monitor the Chinese incursions, which the defense ministry called “irrational and provocative actions” that have “seriously undermined peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region.”

China’s drills come as a delegation of German lawmakers arrived in Taiwan on Monday, led by Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the parliamentary defense committee.

Beijing has sought to isolate Taipei diplomatically and has responded furiously to official visits from foreign governments. When then-U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to Taipei in August, China responded with its largest-ever war games around the island.

China has ratcheted up its pressure campaign in recent years, using what Taiwan’s military calls “gray zone” warfare meant to strain the island’s defense capabilities and wear down its morale.

In late December, China sent more than 70 planes and seven ships toward Taiwan after condemning the United States over a defense authorization bill that boosts military assistance for Taipei.