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Saturday April 20, 2024

China ends war games as US destroyer sails through South China Sea

By AFP
April 11, 2023

Pingtan, China: China declared it had “successfully completed” three days of war games around Taiwan on Monday, capping a show of force that saw it simulate targeted strikes and practise a blockade of the self-ruled island. Beijing’s exercises were a response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen´s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week, an encounter it had warned would provoke strong countermeasures.

After three days of exercises, the Chinese military said it had “successfully completed” tasks related to its “Joint Sword” drills. The exercise “comprehensively tested the integrated joint combat ability of multiple military branches under actual combat conditions”, the People´s Liberation Army´s (PLA) Eastern Command said in a statement.

The statement said troops were “ready for battle and can fight at any time, and will resolutely smash any form of ´Taiwan independence´ separatism and foreign interference attempts”. The war games saw Beijing simulate targeted strikes on Taiwan and encirclement of the island, including “sealing” it off, and a state media report said dozens of planes had practised an “aerial blockade”. One of China´s two aircraft carriers -- the Shandong -- also “participated in today´s exercise”, the military said.

The United States, which had repeatedly called for China to show restraint, on Monday sent the USS Milius guided-missile destroyer through contested parts of the South China Sea.

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea,” the US Navy said in a statement. It added that the vessel had passed near the Spratly Islands -- an archipelago claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. It is about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from Taiwan.

The deployment of the Milius immediately triggered a condemnation from China, which said the vessel had “illegally intruded” into its territorial waters. Separately, Beijing warned Monday that Taiwanese independence and cross-strait peace were “mutually exclusive”, blaming Taipei and unnamed “foreign forces” supporting it for the tensions.

After the drills ended, Taiwan´s foreign ministry condemned China for undermining “peace and stability” in the region. In the course of the exercises, J15 fighter jets from China´s Shandong aircraft carrier were deployed, and were among 54 aircraft that had crossed the median line, it added.

Close Chinese ally Russia defended the drills, with a Kremlin spokesperson saying Beijing had a “sovereign right” to respond to what Moscow called “provocative acts”. China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949. But for decades it has sold weapons to Taipei to help ensure its self-defence and offered political support. Tsai met McCarthy outside Los Angeles on her way home from Central America.

In August last year, China deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest show of force in years following a trip to the island by McCarthy´s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.

Tsai´s meeting with McCarthy in the United States, rather than in Taiwan, was viewed as a compromise that would underscore support for the island but avoid inflaming tensions with Beijing. But China had repeatedly warned against any meeting, and began the latest war games soon after Tsai returned to Taiwan. Tsai responded to the drills by pledging to work with “the US and other like-minded countries” in the face of “continued authoritarian expansionism”.