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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Source: Reuters
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  • Chinese warships and fighter jets exercised off the coast of Taiwan on Tuesday in what Beijing says is a response to “external interference” and “provocations”
  • According to Taiwan, 11 aircraft entered its airspace, including two nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and six J-16 fighters
  • Taiwan claims China is trying to gather electronic signals to “paralyse” US and Japanese aircraft should a war break out
  • Earlier this month, the US approved the sale of an arms package to Taiwan valued at up to US$750 million (A$1.03 billion)

Chinese warships and fighter jets carried out assault drills off the southwest and southeast coast of Taiwan on Tuesday in what Beijing called a response to “external interference” and “provocations”.

Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory, has repeatedly complained of drills by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in its vicinity over the past two years or so. The drills are widely believed to be part of an effort to force Taiwan to accept China’s sovereignty.

The PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command said in a short statement that warships, anti-submarine aircraft and fighter jets had been dispatched close to the island nation to carry out “joint fire assault and other drills using actual troops”, but did not provide any further details.

Speaking to Reuters, a senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security matters said China’s airforce had carried out a “capturing air supremacy drill” using advanced J-16 jets.

“In addition to seeking air supremacy over Taiwan, they have also been conducting frequent electronic reconnaissance and electronic interference operations,” the official said.

Taiwan claims China is trying to gather electronic signals from US and Japanese aircraft. This could potentially enabling them to “paralyse reinforcing aircraft including F-35s in a war”, the official said, referring to the US choice of fighter jet.

According to Taiwan’s Defence Ministry, 11 aircraft entered the country’s airspace, including two nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and six J-16 fighters, adding that it had scrambled jets to warn China’s planes away.

“The nation’s military has a full grasp and has made a full assessment of the situation in the Taiwan Strait region, as well as related developments at sea and in the air, and is prepared for various responses,” the ministry said.

While it’s not immediately clear what set off the latest flurry of Chinese military activity, the US earlier this month approved the sale of an arms package to Taiwan — an artillery system valued at up to US$750 million (A$1.03 billion).

In its statement, the PLA noted that the US and Taiwan had “repeatedly colluded in provocation and sent serious wrong signals, severely infringing upon China’s sovereignty, and severely undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

“This exercise is a necessary action based on the current security situation across the Taiwan Strait and the need to safeguard national sovereignty. It is a solemn response to external interference and provocations by Taiwan independence forces,” the statement said.

China — which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control — sees Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen as a separatist bent on a formal declaration of independence. Ms Tsai, on the other hand, argues that Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.

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