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China trying to ‘normalize’ military drills near Taiwan, island’s top security official says

A NAVY miniature is seen in front of displayed Chinese and Taiwanese flags in this illustration taken April 11, 2023. — REUTERS

TAIPEI – Taiwan’s top security official told parliament on Monday that China runs “joint combat readiness patrols” near the democratic island every 7-10 days on average, saying Chinese forces were trying to “normalize” drills near Taiwan.

China has in recent years stepped up military activities near Taiwan, with almost daily incursions into the island’s air defense identification zones and regular “combat readiness patrols” that included drills by its air and naval forces.

China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, over the island’s strong objections.

Taiwan National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Ming-yen said Beijing usually dispatches around 10 warplanes and 3 to 4 naval ships on joint patrols near Taiwan, calling them part of a “multi-front” effort that also includes economic coercions and misinformation campaign to pressure the island.

“They are tying to normalize their military activities,” Mr. Tsai said, adding that the patrols were occasionally timed to coincide with diplomatic events such as visits to the island by foreign lawmakers.

Mr. Tsai said that Taipei had “close discussions” with international allies on whether a Chinese invasion is imminent and that tensions across the Taiwan Strait have not escalated sharply.

“We do not see any signal of a war in the Taiwan Strait breaking out,” Mr. Tsai said.

Taipei urged Beijing last week not to change the “status quo” around waters near Taiwan’s frontline islands by sending coast guard ships into restricted areas.

Last month Beijing began regular coast guard patrols around the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands, which hug the Chinese coast, after two Chinese fishermen died trying to flee Taiwan’s coast guard.

Mr. Tsai said Beijing will probably continue its carrot and stick approach towards Taiwan ahead of the new president’s inauguration speech in May, including boosting relations with Taiwanese who favor closer ties with China while stepping up displays of force.

“They play soft on one hand and hard on the other,” he said.

Vice President Lai Ching-te, whom China views as a separatist, won the presidency in January and will take office on May 20. – Reuters

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