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Major Chinese Military Drills Near Taiwan May Be ‘Tailored’ to Scare ‘Secessionists’ Following U.S. Weapons Deal, State Media Says

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Major Chinese military drills held along the country’s southeast coast may have been designed as a threat to pro-independence forces in Taiwan, as tensions between the two nations mount amid a new weapons deal with the U.S.

The state-backed Global Times newspaper—in which the ruling Communist Party often airs its more hawkish sentiments—said Monday that the military exercises could be connected to the proposed $2.2 billion U.S.-Taiwan arms deal approved by the State Department last week.

Global Times cited China‘s defense ministry which said the drills may have involved all five military branches, in what it called “a large scale joint exercise.” The newspaper cited anonymous “military insiders” who suggested the drills “might be tailored as a warning to Taiwan secessionists.”

Global Times often attributes party talking points to anonymous officials or commentators, especially when writing about military matters.

Recent tensions over Taiwan play into a long-standing conflict over the islands status. Beijing considers Taiwan—officially called the Republic of China and an independent nation for more than 70 years—part of China, and under its “One-China” policy has retained its commitment to reabsorbing the island, whether through diplomatic or military means.

But U.S. lawmakers have long maintained support for the Taiwanese independence, committing to weapons deals and regional military deployments to protect the island from a Communist Party takeover.

Though the Chinese defense ministry said the exercise was routine and had been long planned, Global Times‘ “military insider” said it was unusual for the ministry to proactively announce such drills. “Anything the Defense Ministry releases is no small matter, it must be big,” the source said.

The “expert” also said that the ministry did not use phrases such as, “The drills are not aimed at any specific target,” or “There is no need for over-interpretation,” which officials often include to head off any suggestion that exercises have political objectives.

Global Times cited the source—whose comments bear striking similarity to official Communist Party statements—as suggesting the exercises would prepare China‘s military “to thwart any secessionist activities and maintain the national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The insider added, “The more Taiwan secessionists stir up trouble and the more foreign support Taiwan secessionists receive, the sooner the day arrives when China becomes reunified.”

President Donald Trump‘s administration is continuing America’s traditional support for Taiwan as part of the president’s tough stance on China. Washington and Beijing are currently at odds over a wide range of trade disputes, the status of Taiwan and China‘s enforcement of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

On Monday, the State Department approved a weapons package worth $2.2 billion for Taiwan, in a move condemned as “flagrant interference in China‘s domestic affairs” in an editorial by the People’s Daily—the official newspaper of the ruling Chinese Communist party.

According to Reuters, the sale will include 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, 1,240 TOW anti-tank missiles and 250 stinger anti-aircraft missiles. China has been especially concerned that Taiwan may purchase new fighter jets from the U.S., but no such weapons are included in this deal.

Beijing was also angered by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s transit through the U.S. on her way to meet with representatives of several Caribbean nations. Though the State Department described her visit as “private and unofficial,” her presence in the country demonstrated continued solidarity between Washington and Taipei.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Tsai said Taiwan and the U.S. can build a closer relationship given “the importance [the U.S.] attaches to the security of the Taiwan Strait,” Reuters reported. She also said Taiwan will continue to defend democratic values in East Asia, with the help of other like-minded countries.

This file photo shows Chinese troops and military equipment at the Vostok-2018 military drills at Tsugol training ground in Siberia, Russia, on September 13, 2018.
MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty

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