Taiwan Scrambles Jets and Puts Units on Alert Over China’s Miitary Drills

(AP) —
Members of an honor guard hold flags during an inauguration ceremony of Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, May 20. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Taiwan scrambled jets and put missile, naval, and land units on alert Thursday over Chinese military exercises being conducted around the self-governing island democracy where a new president took office this week.

China’s military said its two-day exercises around Taiwan were punishment for separatist forces seeking independence. Beijing claims the island is part of China’s national territory, and the People’s Liberation Army sends navy ships and warplanes into the Taiwan Strait and other areas around the island almost daily to wear down Taiwan’s defenses and seek to intimidate its people, who firmly back their de facto independence.

China’s “irrational provocation has jeopardized regional peace and stability,” the island’s Defense Ministry said. It said Taiwan will seek no conflicts but “will not shy away from one.”

“This pretext for conducting military exercises not only does not contribute to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but also shows its hegemonic nature at heart,” the ministry’s statement said.

In his inauguration address on Monday, Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te called for Beijing to stop its military intimidation and pledged to “neither yield nor provoke” the mainland Communist Party leadership.

“Facing external challenges and threats, we will continue to maintain the values of freedom and democracy,” Lai told sailors and top security officials Thursday as he visited a marine base in Taoyuan, just south of the capital Taipei.

While not directly referring to China’s moves, he said international society was concerned about Taiwan’s security, a likely reflection of its key role in supply chains for the most advanced computer chips as well as a democratic bulwark against Chinese moves to assert its control over the Asia-Pacific.

Lai has said he seeks dialogue with Beijing while maintaining Taiwan’s current status and avoiding conflicts that could draw in the island’s chief ally, the U.S., and other regional partners such as Japan and Australia.

The main opposition Nationalist Party, which is generally seen as pro-China, also condemned Beijing’s actions.

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