Don't read too much into military drills, says China

Chinese marines preparing for a drill in Kaohsiung in this Oct 31, 2008, file photo.
Chinese marines preparing for a drill in Kaohsiung in this Oct 31, 2008, file photo.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's Defence Ministry said on Friday (Jan 22) that people shouldn't read too much into a state media broadcast of live-fire military and landing drills, just days after a landslide election win by an independence-leaning opposition party in Taiwan.

The self-ruled island expressed serious concern on Thursday over the mainland's broadcast. Its defence ministry confirmed China recently carried out "winter exercises", but said that the pictures in the video were archive clips spliced together of drills conducted in 2015.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese civil war.

"The relevant media report is a summary of training manoeuvres organised last year by troops. There is no need to over-interpret them," China's Defence Ministry said in a two-sentence statement faxed to Reuters.

Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television said the 31st Group Army, based in China's south-eastern city of Xiamen, opposite Taiwan, had carried out the drills in "recent days", but it did not give an exact location.

The channel broadcast images of amphibious armoured vehicles ploughing through the sea towards a landing site, helicopters firing missiles at shore locations and soldiers parachuting down from helicopters.

The report made no direct mention of the Taiwan election, but a Taiwanese military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the broadcast may be "psychological warfare" warning the new Taiwan government to tread carefully.

Since Saturday's landslide win by Ms Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections, China has warned against any moves towards independence and said it will defend the country's sovereignty.

The United States has expressed concerns about the danger of worsening China-Taiwan ties, at a time when China's navy is increasingly flexing its muscles in the South China and East China Seas and expanding territorial claims.

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken met the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office Minister, Mr Zhang Zhijun, in Beijing on Thursday and "reiterated the United States' abiding interest in continued cross-Strait peace and stability", the State Department said in an e-mail.

Taiwan's military has warned that China has practised attacks on targets modelled on places in Taiwan. Taiwan also estimates China aims hundreds of missiles at the island.