China on launched “real-combat” drills near the Taiwan Strait as a top US official visits Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a breakaway region.
Chinese fighter jets appeared in Taiwanese airspace from four directions, media reports from Taipei said as Beijing launched maritime and airspace drills near the aelf-ruled island on Friday, leading Taiwan to scramble its own warplanes.
The drills come as Keith Krach, US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, arrived in Taiwan late Thursday, and will attend the memorial service for former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui on Saturday.
Krach’s visit comes within a month of US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar’s trip to Taiwan as Washington and Taipei warm up ties, much to the anger of Beijing.
Krach and Azar are two of the highest-level US officials to visit Taiwan in decades.
In Beijing, defence ministry spokesperson, Ren Guoqiang said “those who play with fire will get burnt” as he announced the drills on Friday, adding that the exercises were a “necessary move aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
He accused the US and Taiwan of “stepping up collusion, frequently causing disturbances” without directly referring to Krach’s ongoing visit.
Reiterating that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, Ren was quoted as saying by Chinese media that the Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affair and allows no outside interference.
Commenting on Krach’s visit, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Friday that China has the firm will to thwart external interference and secessionist acts in Taiwan.
During his visit, Krach will attend the memorial service of former Taiwanese leader Lee, who is known as the “godfather of Taiwan secessionism” on the mainland.
The US official is scheduled to meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen for dinner at her official residence later on Friday.
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Beijing has ramped-up military activity near Taiwan in recent months and have conducted several exercises in the region.
In June, Taipei scrambled jets in response to warn off the aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, which had deployed fighter aircraft across the Taiwan Strait hours after an US transport plane flew over the island.
In August, Beijing conducted exercises near the island, which coincided with health secretary’s Azar’s visit.
The US is also preparing to sell seven tranches of weapons systems to Taiwan, the CNN reported on Thursday, quoting a US official.
The US, like India and the majority of countries, does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan though the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 allows Washington to sell arms to the island.