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China deploys dozens of warplanes and ships near Taiwan

The move is a show of anger over the island’s new leaders.

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Taiwan has tracked dozens of Chinese warplanes and navy vessels off its coast on Friday.

This is the second day of a large military exercise launched by Beijing to show its anger over the self-governing island’s inauguration of new leaders who refuse to accept its insistence that Taiwan is part of China.

China has issued elaborate media statements showing Taiwan being surrounded by forces from its military, the People’s Liberation Army.

A new video showed animated Chinese forces approaching from all sides and Taiwan being enclosed within a circular target area while simulated missiles hit key population and military targets.

Despite that, there was little sign of concern among Taiwan’s 23 million people, who have lived under threat of Chinese invasion since the two sides split during a civil war in 1949.

Parade for new Taiwanese leader
Soldiers are assembled in front of the Taiwan national flag in Taoyuan, Northern Taiwan (AP)

Taiwan’s parliament was mired in a dispute between political parties over procedural measures, and business continued as usual in the bustling capital of Taipei and the ports of Keelong and Kaohsiung.

The defence ministry said it tracked 49 Chinese warplanes and 19 navy vessels, as well as coast guard vessels, and that 35 of the planes flew across the median line in the Taiwan Strait, the de facto boundary between the two sides, over a 24-hour period from Thursday into Friday.

Taiwanese marine and coast guard vessels along with air and ground-based missile units have been put on alert, particularly around the Taiwan-controlled island chains of Kinmen and Matsu just off China’s coast and far from Taiwan’s main island.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s new President, Lai Ching-te, said at a marine base in Taoyuan, just south of the capital, Taipei: “Facing external challenges and threats, we will continue to maintain the values of freedom and democracy.”

Taiwan President
Taiwan President Lai Ching-te spoke to military personnel on Thursday (AP)

In his inauguration speech on Monday, Mr Lai urged Beijing to stop its military intimidation and said Taiwan was “a sovereign independent nation in which sovereignty lies in the hands of the people”.

China’s military said its expanded exercises around Taiwan were punishment for separatist forces seeking independence.

It sends navy ships and warplanes into the Taiwan Strait and other areas around the island almost daily to wear down Taiwan’s defences and seek to intimidate its people, who firmly back their de facto independence.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said officials are following China’s drills closely.

He said: “We urge the relevant parties to refrain from acts that could escalate tensions in the region.”

The Pentagon said the United States was “monitoring very closely” the joint Chinese drills. It said Beijing’s actions “are reckless, risk escalation, and erode longstanding norms that have maintained regional peace and stability for decades.”

“We strongly urge Beijing to act with restraint,” it said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, at a daily briefing on Friday, dismissed US calls for China to exercise restraint in relation to the latest drills, saying the US “is in no position to make such irresponsible remarks”.

Washington is legally bound to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself and considers all threats to the island a matter of “grave concern”.

The US has been aiding in the upgrading of Taiwan’s equipment and training, even while its official policy remains ambiguous on whether American troops and those of regional allies would be dispatched to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

China’s exercises come on the heels of combined drills by the US and its Dutch Nato ally in the disputed South China Sea, a crucial waterway for global trade, fisheries and energy resources which China claims virtually in its entirety.

China routinely objects to activities in the region by foreign military forces it accuses of acting without mandate outside their home regions. China has particularly pressed its claims against the Philippines.

The Philippines Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro on Friday criticised Beijing’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea, without citing China by name. He spoke at a military ceremony marking the anniversary of the founding of the Philippine navy.

The Philippines, he said, would not tolerate aggression and provocative moves.

Since territorial hostilities with China surged last year in the South China Sea, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s administration has taken steps to forge new security alliances with a number of Asian and Western countries and allowed a US military presence in more Philippine bases under a 2014 defence pact.

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