World (AP)

Chinese military launches drills around Taiwan as ‘warning’ after top island official stopped in US | AP News

Chinese military launches drills around Taiwan as ‘warning’ after top island official stopped in US | AP News

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese military launched drills around Taiwan on Saturday as a “stern warning” over what it called collusion between “separatists and foreign forces,” its defense ministry said, days after the island’s vice president stopped over in the United States.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai’s recent trip to Paraguay to reinforce relations with his government’s last diplomatic partner in South America included stops in San Francisco and New York City. The mainland’s ruling Communist Party claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and says it has no right to conduct foreign relations.

A spokesperson for China’s Eastern Theater Command said in a brief statement that the military exercises involved the coordination of vessels and planes and their ability to seize control of air and sea spaces.

It was also testing the forces’ “actual combat capabilities,” Shi Yi said. The drills were a warning over provocations from pro-Taiwan independence forces and foreign forces, he added.

Taiwan’s defense ministry strongly condemned what it called “irrational, provocative moves” in a statement. It said it would deploy appropriate forces to respond to the drills and take action to “safeguard freedom and democracy.”

It said its military would stand ready in the face of the threats posted by the Chinese army, adding that its forces have “the ability, determination and confidence to safeguard national security.”

Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with the ruling Communist Party in control of the mainland. The self-ruled island has never been part of the People’s Republic of China, but Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be retaken by force if necessary.

China’s official Xinhua news agency on Saturday reported that an unnamed official in China’s Taiwan Work Office strongly condemned what it called further collusion between Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the U.S. and said it was a “new provocative move.”

The official pointed to the stopovers in the U.S., an interview Lai gave to news outlet Bloomberg and his meeting with U.S. officials in Paraguay, the report said. The official said Lai had used “Taiwan independence” rhetoric in the interview.

The official also accused Lai of using his stopovers in the U.S. to sell out the interest of Taiwan to seek gains in the island’s election and described him as a “troublemaker who will push Taiwan to the dangerous brink of war,” the report added.

Lai is his party’s candidate for the 2024 presidential election in January.