China says military drills encircling Taiwan designed to test its ability to ‘seize power’

China says military drills encircling Taiwan designed to test its ability to ‘seize power’

China’s military drills around Taiwan are designed to test its ability to “seize power” over the island, the People’s Liberation Army said Friday as its forces kicked off a second day of large-scale exercises encircling its democratic neighbor.

The exercises are the largest in more than a year and come just days after Taiwan swore in its new president, Lai Ching-te, who is openly praised by Beijing for championing the island’s sovereignty and distinct identity.

Beijing has denounced Lai as a “dangerous separatist” and decried his inauguration speech on Monday, during which he called on China to cease its intimidation of Taiwan, which has grown much more pronounced under Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The PLA, which dwarfs Taipei’s outgunned military, kicked off the exercises on Thursday morning, sending warships and fighter jets around Taiwan and its outlying islands in what it called “a strong punishment for separatist acts of Taiwan independence forces.”

A large screen in Beijing shows a Chinese fighter jet taking part in China’s two-day military drills around Taiwan on May 23, 2020. – Kyodo News/Getty Images

On Friday, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command said it was continuing drills on both sides of the Taiwan island chain to “test the ability to jointly seize power, launch joint attacks and occupy key areas.”

China’s ruling Communist Party views Taiwan as part of its territory, despite never having controlled it, and has vowed to take the island by force if necessary.

The vast majority of Taiwanese have no desire to live under China’s rule. But Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in a generation, has made clear the island’s “inevitable reunification” with the mainland cannot be put off indefinitely.

The two-day exercises, involving joint operations of China’s army, navy, air force and rocket force, are being conducted in the Taiwan Strait – a narrow body of water separating the island from mainland China – as well as north, south and east of Taiwan, according to the PLA.

For the first time, the PLA drills also involved China’s Coast Guard, operating in areas around Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, located just off the southeastern coast of China.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has condemned China’s military exercises as “irrational provocations” and dispatched its own sea, air and ground forces in response.

Between 6 am Thursday and 6 am Friday, the ministry detected 49 Chinese aircraft, including 35 that crossed the Median Line, an informal demarcation point in the Taiwan Strait that Beijing does not recognize but until recent years had largely respected.

A total of 19 Chinese warships and seven coast guard vessels were detected near the Taiwan Strait, according to the ministry.

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