China plays down TV broadcast of military exercises

Broadcast took place days after election victory by pro-independence party in Taiwan

BEIJING • China's Defence Ministry said yesterday that people should not 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 China's broadcast.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry confirmed China recently carried out "winter exercises", but said the pictures in the video were spliced-together archive clips of drills conducted last year, Reuters reported.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Defeated Nationalist forces had 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 overinterpret them," China's Defence Ministry said in a 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 anexact 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 elections, but a Taiwanese military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the broadcast may be "psychological warfare" by China, warning Taiwan's new government to tread carefully.

Since last Saturday's landslide win by President-elect 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.

Thousands of posts, apparently from China, have flooded Ms Tsai's Facebook page since the victory, Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday.

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

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken met China'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.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'China plays down TV broadcast of military exercises'. Print Edition | Subscribe