PLA drills near Taiwan a 'solemn warning', says China

BEIJING • Chinese military exercises near Taiwan are a “solemn warning to external forces”, Beijing said yesterday, after the new United States government expressed strong support for the self-ruled island.

China views democratic Taiwan as part of its territory that must one day be reunified, by force if necessary, and the issue has quickly become a flashpoint for President Joe Biden’s administration.

The State Department said over the weekend that US commitment to Taiwan was “rock solid”, as Taipei reported that multiple Chinese jets and bombers had flown into its air defence zone.

Taiwan issued warnings and deployed air defence missile systems to track the flyovers last Saturday, which comprised bombers, fighter jets and anti-submarine aircraft.

Beijing yesterday defended the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) exercises as necessary to “safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The PLA exercises “solemnly warn external forces to stop interference and sternly warn… separatist forces to stop provocations”, said Ms Zhu Fenglian, spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.

Ms Zhu stressed that China reserves the option to “take all measures” to deal with interference, including the use of force.

Taiwan split from China at the end of a civil war in 1949 and exists under the constant threat of invasion by the mainland.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, but remains the island’s most important unofficial ally and military backer.

Former US president Donald Trump embraced warmer ties with Taiwan as he feuded with China on issues including trade and national security.

Mr Biden’s administration has offered Taiwan cause for optimism for continued support aside from the “rock solid” comment.

Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US was formally invited to Mr Biden’s inauguration, a precedent-setting first since 1979.

The State Department also called on China over the weekend “to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan”, and instead engage in dialogue with the island’s democratically elected representatives.

Yesterday, Ms Zhu said the Taiwan issue was the “most important and sensitive core issue in China-US relations”.

Separately, China has banned the entry of meat products produced in Taiwan or transported via Taiwan, Ms Zhu said in response to concerns that US ractopamine-laced pork and beef imports approved by Taiwan will flow into the mainland market.

The relevant authorities on the mainland have stepped up inspections, she added.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced in August last year that the government would from Jan 1 allow in US pork containing ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness but is banned in China and the European Union.

Ms Tsai’s government and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which has a large majority in Parliament, said the decision brings the island into line with international norms, is not a safety threat and will boost Taiwan-US ties.

“The decision is in line with the country’s overall interests and the goals of the nation’s strategic development,” Ms Tsai had said. “If we can take one crucial step forward on the issue of US pork and beef, it will be an important start for Taiwan-US economic cooperation.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA, REUTERS

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