April 26, 2018 / 7:12 AM / 6 months ago

China air force circles Taiwan in latest military drill

BEIJING, April 26 (Reuters) - Chinese aircraft flew around self-ruled Taiwan on Thursday, China’s air force said, the latest in a series of recent exercises Taiwan has described as military intimidation.

Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as Chinese territory, is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.

Over the past year or so, China has ramped up military drills around democratic Taiwan, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island.

In a statement on its microblog, the Chinese air force said it scrambled fighter jets, early warning aircraft, reconnaissance planes and H-6K bombers from multiple airports for “combat military drills” on Thursday.

The air force said its H-6K bombers had conducted numerous drills circling Taiwan since Apr. 18 “to improve its ability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

China’s hostility towards the island has grown since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China has been issuing increasingly strident calls for Taiwan to toe the line, even as Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo and keep the peace.

On Wednesday, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said drills near Taiwan were designed to send a clear message to the island and that China would take further steps if Taiwan independence forces persisted in doing as they pleased.

Last week, China conducted live-fire drills along its southeast coast and its air force said it flew H-6K bombers around Taiwan, prompting Taiwan to say China’s military exercises amounted to military intimidation. (Reporting by Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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