Taiwan warns of threat to its democracy as China carries out military drills

Experts say exercises are designed as a rehearsal for a blockade of the self-governing island

Taiwan has accused Beijing of threatening its peace and democracy with military drills simulating a blockade of the self-governing island. The drills came days after the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te, whom the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has condemned as a “dangerous separatist”.

“It is regrettable to see China engaging in unilateral military provocations that threaten Taiwan’s democracy and freedom, as well as regional peace and stability,” Taiwan presidential office spokeswoman Kuo Ya-hui said.

“In the face of external challenges and threats, we will continue to defend democracy.”

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it started two days of drills involving the army, navy, air force and rocket force around Taiwan at 7.45am on Thursday morning. They involve warships, dozens of fighter jets carrying live missiles and focus on naval and air combat readiness and preparedness for seizing battlefield control and strikes of crucial targets.

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“This is also a strong punishment for the separatist acts of Taiwan independence forces and a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces,” the PLA’s Eastern Command said.

Military experts said the exercises were designed as a practice for a blockade of Taiwan, which relies on imports, particularly of energy. Blockading the island could lead to its economic collapse and part of the current exercise is directed at paralysing Kaohsiung port, Taiwan’s maritime gateway.

The drills appear to be a response to Mr Lai’s inauguration speech in Taipei on Monday, in which he called on Beijing to stop intimidating the island and said that Taiwan and mainland China were not subordinate to one another. Mr Lai described Taiwan as a frontline guardian of world peace because of its strategic location, adding that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait were indispensable to global security and prosperity.

Unlike his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, Mr Lai omitted from his speech a number of phrases and references that have long been seen as coded reassurances to Beijing that Taiwan’s government remains committed to the status quo. These include references to the Republic of China’s constitutional order, the 1992 agreements between Beijing and Taipei, and Taiwan’s Act Governing Relations between the people of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), which condemned the speech a few hours after Mr Lai delivered it on Monday, issued a longer statement the following evening denouncing it again.

“The entire speech was filled with antagonism and provocation, lies and deception – the ‘Taiwan independence’ stance is even more radical and risky,” it said in a statement.

In his speech, Mr Lai said that co-operation and engagement across the Taiwan Strait could begin with a resumption of tourism on a reciprocal basis and the enrolment of degree students from the mainland in Taiwanese institutions. But the TAO dismissed the proposal as “empty talk” and asked “where is the genuine sincerity in promoting cross-strait exchanges”.

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