Taiwan says confident of its defences after Chinese encirclement drill

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan is confident of its defences and responded quickly to Chinese air force's "island encirclement" drills this week, the self-ruled island's government said, denouncing the rise in China's military deployments as irresponsible.

China considers Taiwan to be its sacred territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring, what it views as, a wayward province under Chinese control.

Tensions have risen in recent days after a senior Chinese diplomat threatened that China would invade Taiwan if any US warships made port visits there.

On Monday (Dec 11), Chinese jets carried out "island encirclement patrols" around Taiwan, with state media showing pictures of bombers with cruise missiles slung under their wings.

And on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump signed into law the National Defence Authorisation Act for the 2018 fiscal year, which authorises the possibility of mutual visits by navy vessels between Taiwan and the United States.

Such visits would be the first since the US ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 and established ties with Beijing.

Taiwan presidential spokesman Alex Huang, speaking to Taiwan media in comments reported late on Wednesday, said the defence ministry had kept a close watch on the patrols and responded immediately and properly.

Taiwan "can ensure there are no concerns at all about national security, and people can rest assured", Huang said.

Both sides of the narrow Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland, have a responsibility to protect peace and stability, he added.

"Such a raised military posture that may impact upon and harm regional peace and stability and cross-strait ties does not give a feeling of responsibility, and the international community does not look favourably upon this," Huang was quoted as saying.

Relations have soured considerably since Tsai Ing-wen, who leads Taiwan's independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, won presidential elections last year.

China suspects Tsai wants to declare the island's formal independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China but will defend Taiwan's security.

Taiwan is well equipped with mostly US weapons, but has been pressing for more advanced equipment to deal with what it sees as rising threat from China. The US is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.