China's air force conducts long-range drills near Taiwan

TAIPEI • Chinese military aircraft yesterday flew over waterways near Taiwan as part of long-range exercises, the island's defence ministry said, the first such flights since a telephone call between Taiwan's leader and the US President-elect irked China.

The move also comes a day after the US Congress approved the country's annual defence budget Bill that calls for senior military exchanges between US and Taiwan.

The Chinese jets flew north to south and entered the Miyako Strait around Japan's southern islands as well as the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan, but did not enter Taiwan's air defence identification zone, Taiwan's defence ministry said in a statement.

The drills, lasting about four hours, involved more than 10 aircraft, including four electronic surveillance planes that flew through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

China, which has in recent years become more assertive in the western Pacific and South China Sea, has carried out similar exercises in the area since September.

CHINA'S STANCE CONSISTENT

The US side should cautiously handle the issue and not turn back the wheels of history, so as to avoid disturbance to the China-US relations.

FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN LU KANG

The Chinese air force has described the exercises as part of regular, annual drills which accord with international law and practice.

There was no indication that the exercise yesterday was a response to the phone call between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US President-elect Donald Trump on Dec 2, or the US Congress' approval of the defence budget that calls for senior military exchanges with Taiwan.

On Friday, China reiterated its opposition to official and military relations between the US and Taiwan in any form. Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang noted that China has lodged solemn representation to the US about the National Defence Authorisation Act many times since it was put forward by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Taiwan issue concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and is the most important and sensitive issue to China-US relations, Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Lu as saying at a daily press briefing.

"China's stance is consistent and clear, and well known to the international community," he said. "The US side should cautiously handle the issue and not turn back the wheels of history, so as to avoid disturbance to the China-US relations."

The tensions arose after the phone call between Mr Trump and Ms Tsai, the first between a US president or President-elect and a Taiwan leader since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979.

China lodged a diplomatic protest over the call and blamed Taiwan for what it called a "petty" move. China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'China's air force conducts long-range drills near Taiwan'. Print Edition | Subscribe