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China launches major military drills around Taiwan as island deploys forces to ‘protect freedom’ | World News

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China’s military has launched two days of major drills around Taiwan, encircling the island with ships and fighter jets in the greatest escalation in tension across the Taiwan Strait since 2022.

Li Jia, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) spokesperson, called the drills “strong punishment for the separatist acts of Taiwan’s independence forces”.

Not only is Taiwan encircled, including its mountainous eastern flank, but the PLA is also operating close to the islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin.

Taiwan’s defence ministry condemned the drills, calling them an “irrational provocation and actions that disrupt peace and stability in the region”.

It said its navy, air force and ground forces had been deployed to “protect freedom and democracy and safeguard the sovereignty” of the island.

It comes only three days after Taiwan inaugurated its new president Lai Ching-te, also called William Lai.

China has previously called him a “dangerous separatist” after he made comments about pro-independence earlier in his career.

Lai Ching-te has just become Taiwan's new leader. Pic: Reuters
Lai Ching-te has just become Taiwan’s new leader. Pic: Reuters

A Taiwan jet coming in to land at Hsinchu Air Base. Pic: Reuters
A Taiwanese jet coming in to land at Hsinchu Air Base on 23 May. Pic: Reuters

Since then, the new president has been more cautious about expressing his views.

During his inauguration speech, he did not outright challenge the status quo in Taiwan-Chinese relations, but did call on China to “face up to the fact that the Republic of Taiwan exists”.

It was enough to enrage China and trigger this response.

Read more:
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Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi says Taiwan's leaders are trying to change the status quo. Pic: Reuters
China’s top foreign affairs diplomat Wang Y says Taiwan’s leaders are trying to change the status quo. Pic: Reuters

Speaking in Kazakhstan, China’s top foreign affairs diplomat Wang Yi said: “The leaders of the Taiwan region… have also presumptuously attempted to change the nature of cross-Strait relations.”

China insists Taiwan is Chinese territory and has vowed to “reunify” with the island – and has not ruled out the use of force to do so.

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The PLA regularly operates close to Taiwan in a type of warfare that analysts call the “grey-zone”. It’s not enough to tip the region into war, but keeps it in a constant state of high alert.

China has now dialled up the pressure. East Asia is on edge.

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