China military says holds combat exercises around Taiwan as US senator visits island

Several Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on July 8 in the northern part of the strait. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's military recently held multi-unit joint combat readiness exercises, patrols and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan, the Eastern Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement on Friday (July 8).

The exercises were organised in response to "collusion and provocations" by the United States and Taiwan, Wu Qian, spokesman for China's ministry of defence said, according to the ministry's official Weibo account on Friday.

Several Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Friday in the northern part of the strait, a Taiwan source briefed on the matter told Reuters, adding the aircraft did not enter Taiwan's airspace.

Senior United States senator, Republican Rick Scott, arrived in Taiwan on Thursday for a visit and met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday.

The Florida Republican chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and also sits on the Senate's Armed Services Committee.

"The US side's move seriously violates the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-US joint communiqués, seriously damages the political foundation of Sino-US relations, seriously undermines the relationship between the two countries and the two militaries, and escalates tensions in the Taiwan Strait region," Wu said, in response to a reporter's question about the senator's visit.

"The Chinese People's Liberation Army is ready for war at all times, and will take all necessary measures to resolutely thwart the interference of external forces and the secessionist attempts of 'Taiwan independence', and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Taiwan's defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the drills.

After meeting President Tsai in Taipei on Friday Senator Scott told reporters that he believes that following Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine "the world has changed".

"We all have to put ourselves in a position that we can make sure we defend the freedom we all believe in," he said. "I do think it would be helpful if Taiwan participated in RIMPAC and I hope that's what happens in the future."

The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC, is billed as the world's largest international maritime exercise, with the latest one kicking off late last month with 26 nations participating in drills around Hawaii and southern California.

"Taiwan will continue to work closely with the United States to jointly safeguard the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region," Tsai told Scott earlier on Friday during their meeting at her office.

US-China tensions are high over a number of issues including Taiwan, the South China Sea, trade tariffs and China's refusal to openly criticise Russian leader Putin over the war in Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is due to meet Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Saturday at the G-20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali.

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