Taiwan accuses Beijing of ‘sabre rattling’ as naval drills begin

Mainland state media says drills in Taiwan Strait are a response to ‘provocations’ by Taiwanese leaders promoting the island’s formal independence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 2:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 2:44pm

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and sabre rattling” to threaten Taiwan as mainland China’s military began live-fire drills in the sensitive Taiwan Strait amid growing tension.

The exercises are taking place off the southeastern mainland city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to the mainland’s coast which Taipei has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Mainland state media has said the drills are a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwanese leaders related to what Beijing fears are moves to push for the island’s formal independence.

“The Chinese communists have been using cheap verbal intimidation and sabre rattling on every aspect of the Republic of China in the hope of affecting our morale or creating social unease,” said defence ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi. The Republic of China is Taiwan’s official name.

Taiwan’s leader says island secure ahead of mainland China naval drills

Describing as “nonsense” some mainland commentaries that this week’s drills were larger than usual, Chen said they were only a short-range shooting exercise close to the China coast, not military drills in the Taiwan Strait.

“That’s why we say it’s a verbal intimidation and sabre rattling … using public opinion to exaggerate the falsity … and playing up an exercise into unification of Taiwan by force.”

Chen said the ministry was monitoring the situation and it had no plan to escalate alerts or states of readiness.

Taiwan started its own live-fire shooting exercises on Tuesday in Matsu and Quemoy, two Taiwanese islands close to China.

Mainland state television said the exercises would start at 8am and last until midnight, but did not immediately provide any other details.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. Beijing has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

The latest mainland military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the self-governed island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

Beijing claims democratic Taiwan as its own and considers the island a breakaway province.

The mainland’s hostility towards Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections on the island in 2016.

Taipei, Beijing spar over Taiwan premier’s independence remarks

More recently, Beijing has been incensed by comments by Taiwan Premier William Lai in support of Taiwan independence, although the island’s government says Lai’s position remains that the status quo across the Taiwan Strait should be maintained.

Mainland’s state television, in a report on its WeChat social media account, said the drills were at least partly a response to Lai’s comments.

“Don’t say you weren’t warned,” it said.

Beijing has also been upset with moves in Washington to bolster its unofficial ties with Taipei, including arms sales.