China says Taiwan Strait flyovers a 'solemn warning'

A RF-16 fighter jet drops flares during the live fire Han Kuang military exercise on May 30, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese military exercises near Taiwan are a "solemn warning to external forces", Beijing said on Wednesday (Jan 27), 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 new President Joe Biden's administration.

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

Taiwan issued warnings and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor the flyover, which last Saturday consisted of bombers, fighter jets and anti-submarine aircraft.

Beijing on Wednesday defended the People's Liberation Army exercises as necessary to "safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

They "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.

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 president Donald Trump embraced warmer ties with Taiwan as he feuded with China on issues like 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.

On Wednesday, Ms Zhu said the Taiwan issue was the "most important and sensitive core issue in China-US relations".

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