China says drills near Taiwan target 'arrogance' of separatists

Illustration shows Chinese and Taiwanese flags

By Bernard Orr and Roger Tung

BEIJING/TAPEI (Reuters) -China said on Wednesday its recent series of drills near Taiwan aimed at combating the "arrogance" of separatist forces, while the frontrunner to be Taiwan's next president said China was trying to "annex" the island.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has said this month that it had observed dozens of fighters, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships and the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong, operating nearby.

The increased frequency of China's military activities has raised the risk of events "getting out of hand" and sparking an accidental clash, the island's defence minister has warned.

Asked about the spurt in drills, and Taiwan's concerns about increased risk, Zhu Fenglian, the spokeswoman of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, acknowledged the drills by the People's Liberation Army.

"The purpose is to resolutely combat the arrogance of Taiwan independence separatist forces and their actions to seek independence," Zhu told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"The provocation of Taiwan independence continues all day long, and the actions of the People's Liberation Army to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity are always ongoing," she added.

She urged people in Taiwan to distinguish between "right and wrong", resolutely oppose independence for the island, and work with China to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

China has a particularly strong dislike of William Lai, the frontrunner to be elected president at the island's January elections for previous comments in support of independence.

However, he says he does not seek to change the status quo and has offered talks with Beijing.

The situation across the Taiwan Strait had "not improved due to the passage of time", said Lai, now the island's vice-president.

"China's attempts to annex Taiwan have not changed," he said at an event in Taipei on Wednesday for the 37th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP.


China's armed forces have not explicitly mentioned or commented on the drills at a time when Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu has gone missing from public view. Sources have told Reuters he is being investigated for corruption.

Taiwan's democratically elected government says only the island's people can decide their future, and has repeatedly offered talks with China, which Beijing has rejected.

On Wednesday, Taiwan's defence ministry reported further Chinese military movements, saying it had detected and responded to 16 Chinese aircraft entering the island's air defence identification zone over the prior 24 hours.

Of those, 12 crossed the median line of the Taiwan strait, which had served as an unofficial barrier between the two sides until China began regularly crossing it in August last year.

On Thursday, Taiwan is set to launch the first of eight domestically made submarines as it bolsters its defences against China.

In Beijing, when asked about the submarines, Zhu said efforts by Taiwan's DPP to "seek independence with force" would only exacerbate tensions and "push the Taiwanese people into a dangerous situation".

In an unusual revelation last week, Taiwan's defence ministry said it was monitoring China's drills in the southern province of Fujian, opposite Taiwan. Normally Taiwan provides details only of drills in the skies and waters around it.

A senior Taiwan official familiar with security planning in the region told Reuters the information was released to show Taiwan's surveillance and intelligence capacity.

"We can see the details and we are prepared," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

China's military has also not commented on the Fujian exercises.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr and Roger Tung; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom, and Yimou Lee in Taipei; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez)