By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
TAIPEI, April 10 (Reuters) – China ended three days of military drills around Taiwan on Monday saying they had tested integrated military capabilities under actual combat conditions, having practiced precision strikes and blockading the island that Beijing views as its own.
Taiwan responded to Beijing’s announcement by saying it would “never relax” its efforts to strengthen combat readiness and would closely monitor China’s missile forces and movements of the Shandong aircraft carrier.
Beijing began the drills on Saturday after Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen returned to Taipei following a meeting in Los Angeles with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring the democratically-governed island under Beijing’s control. Taiwan’s government strongly disputes China’s claims and has denounced the drills.
The Chinese military said it had “successfully completed” the exercises and “comprehensively tested” the capabilities of multiple units under actual combat conditions.
“The troops in the theater are ready to fight all the time and can fight at any time, resolutely crushing any form of Taiwan independence separatism and foreign interference,” the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army said in a statement.
Chinese state television said earlier on Monday that aircraft, including nuclear-capable H-6 bombers armed with live missiles, and warships staged drills to “form a multi-directional island-encompassing blockade situation.”
The Eastern Theatre Command said the Shandong had also taken part in combat patrols, and it showed fighters taking off from the aircraft carrier’s deck.
Taiwan has tracked the Shandong since last week in the Pacific Ocean.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said that as of 1000 GMT on Monday it had spotted 12 Chinese ships and 91 military aircraft around the island, including carrier-based J-15 fighters flown from the Shandong.
The Shandong conducted air operations in waters close to Japan’s Okinawan islands on Sunday, Japan’s defense ministry said on Monday.
Jet fighters and helicopters took off and landed on the carrier 120 times from Friday to Sunday, with the carrier, three other warships and a support vessel coming within 230 kilometers (143 miles) of Japan’s Miyako island, the defense ministry said.
Japan has been following China’s military drills around Taiwan “with great interest,” a top government spokesperson said on Monday.
Japan has long worried about China’s military activities in the area given how close southern Japanese islands are to Taiwan.
The Japanese island of Okinawa hosts a major U.S. air force base, and last August when China staged war games to protest the visit of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, Chinese missiles landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The European Union also expressed concern on Monday, saying Taiwan’s status should not be changed by force as any escalation, accident or use of force there would have huge global implications.
The United States has said it is watching China’s drills closely.
By contrast, Russia, which has declared a “no limits” partnership with China, said on Monday that Beijing had every right to respond to repeated “provocations” against it and carry out military exercises around Taiwan.
‘LOCK ON THE TARGET’
China’s military simulated precision strikes against Taiwan in the second day of drills around the island on Sunday.
The Eastern Theatre Command on Monday released a short video on its WeChat account showing an H-6 bomber flying in what it said was the skies north ofTaiwan.
“The missiles are in good condition,” an unidentified voice says, as the video shows images from the cockpit.
“Start the fire control radar, lock on the target,” another voice says, showing images of a missile under the aircraft’s wing.
It then shows a pilot readying the fire control button for what it describes as a simulated attack, and then pressing the button, though it did not show any missiles being fired.
Taiwan’s military has repeatedly said it will respond calmly to China’s drills and not provoke conflict.
The defense ministry separately released pictures on Monday of mobile launchers for the Taiwan-made Hsiung Feng anti-ship missiles at an undisclosed location, as well as missile-armed fast attack boats at sea.
Reuters reporters at the Cape Maobitou park in Pingtung county on Taiwan’s southern tip saw Hsiung Feng launchers deployed near a scenic spot on Monday, as soldiers stood guard and tourists watched and posed for pictures.
Life in Taiwan has continued normally with no signs of panic or disruption, and civilian flights operating as usual.
“Most normal people probably aren’t afraid, with the main reason being that everyone thinks that China will certainly not start a war,” said retiree and former soldier Tang Pao-hsiung, 78.
Taiwan’s stock market brushed off the tension, with the benchmark index .TWIIclosing up 0.3% on Monday.
However, China’s blue-chip CSI300 Index fell 0.5%, while the Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC dipped 0.4% as the drills curbed investors’ risk appetite.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Fabian Hamacher, Ann Wang and Ebrahim Harris in Pingtung, Taiwan, Liz Lee in Beijing, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Tim Kelly and Satoshi Sugiyama in Tokyo; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Jamie Freed, Gerry Doyle, Toby Chopra and Gareth Jones)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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