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Taiwan Scrambles Jets Amid China Drills05/23 06:08


   TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Taiwan scrambled jets and put missile, naval and land 
units on alert Thursday over Chinese military exercises being conducted around 
the self-governing island democracy where a new president took office this week.

   China's military said its two-day exercises around Taiwan were punishment 
for separatist forces seeking independence. Beijing claims the island is part 
of China's national territory and the People's Liberation Army sends navy ships 
and warplanes into the Taiwan Strait and other areas around the island almost 
daily to wear down Taiwan's defenses and seek to intimidate its people, who 
firmly back their de facto independence.

   China's "irrational provocation has jeopardized regional peace and 
stability," the island's Defense Ministry said. It said Taiwan will seek no 
conflicts but "will not shy away from one."

   "This pretext for conducting military exercises not only does not contribute 
to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but also shows its hegemonic 
nature at heart," the ministry's statement said.

   In his inauguration address on Monday, Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te 
called for Beijing to stop its military intimidation and pledged to "neither 
yield nor provoke" the mainland Communist Party leadership.

   "Facing external challenges and threats, we will continue to maintain the 
values of freedom and democracy," Lai told sailors and top security officials 
Thursday as he visited a marine base in Taoyuan, just south of the capital 

   While not directly referring to China's moves, he said international society 
was concerned about Taiwan's security, a likely reflection of its key role in 
supply chains for the most advanced computer chips as well as a democratic 
bulwark against Chinese moves to assert its control over the Asia-Pacific.

   Lai has said he seeks dialogue with Beijing while maintaining Taiwan's 
current status and avoiding conflicts that could draw in the island's chief 
ally the U.S. and other regional partners such as Japan and Australia.

   The main opposition Nationalist Party, which is generally seen as pro-China, 
also condemned Beijing's actions.

   The Nationalists, also known as the KMT, called on "the opposite side of the 
(Taiwan Strait) to exercise restraint, cease unnecessary maneuvers, avoid a 
conflict in the Taiwan Strait and maintain the cherish the results of peace and 
development between the sides."

   Thursday's tensions came amid protests outside Taiwan's legislature against 
moves by the Nationalists and allies to use their slim majority to force 
through legislation that could affect military budgets and key judicial and 
other appointments.

   The People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command said the land, navy 
and air exercises around Taiwan are meant to test the navy and air capabilities 
of the PLA units, as well as their joint strike abilities to hit targets and 
win control of the battlefield, the command said on its official Weibo account.

   "This is also a powerful punishment for the separatist forces seeking 
'independence' and a serious warning to external forces for interference and 
provocation," the statement said.

   The PLA also released a map of the intended exercise area, which surrounds 
Taiwan's main island at five different points, as well as places like Matsu and 
Kinmen, outlying islands that are closer to the Chinese mainland than Taiwan.

   China's coast guard also said in a statement that it organized a fleet to 
carry out law enforcement drills near two islands close to the 
Taiwanese-controlled island groups of Kinmen and Matsu just off the Chinese 

   While China has called the exercises punishment for Taiwan's election 
result, the Democratic Progressive Party has now run the island's government 
for more than a decade, although the pro-China Nationalist Party took a 
one-seat majority in the parliament.

   Speaking in Australia, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka, the deputy 
commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, called on Asia-Pacific nations to 
condemn the Chinese military exercises.

   "There's no surprise whenever there's an action that highlights Taiwan in 
the international sphere the Chinese feel compelled to make some kind of form 
of statement," Sklenka told the National Press Club of Australia in the capital 
Canberra, in a reference to Monday's presidential inauguration.

   "Just because we expect that behavior doesn't mean that we shouldn't condemn 
it, and we need to condemn it publicly. And it needs to come from us, but it 
also needs to come, I believe, from nations in the region. It's one thing when 
the United States condemns the Chinese, but it has a far more powerful effect, 
I believe, when it comes from nations within this region," Sklenka added.

   Japan's top envoy weighed in while visiting the U.S., saying Japan and 
Taiwan share values and principles, including freedom, democracy, basic rights 
and rule of law.

   "(Taiwan) is our extremely important partner that we have close economic 
relations and exchanges of people, and is our precious friend," Foreign 
Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters in Washington, where she held talks with 
Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

   She said the two ministers discussed Taiwan and the importance of the Taiwan 
Strait, one of the world's most important waterways for shipping, remaining 

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