China says further steps ready to target Taiwan independence

BEIJING — China is prepared to take further steps to counter perceived moves by self-ruling Taiwan toward formal independence following recent war games aimed at intimidating the island's leaders, the government said Wednesday.

Signals sent by the military exercises "are extremely distinct and clear," the spokesman for the Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, Ma Xiaoguang, told reporters at a bi-weekly news briefing.

"We have the firm will, complete confidence and sufficient capability to frustrate any types of Taiwan independence schemes or actions and protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Ma said.

"If the Taiwan independence forces continue to act however they wish, we will take further actions," he said.

Responding to Ma's comments, Taiwan's equivalent Cabinet agency, the Mainland Affairs Council, said Chinese "military pressure and threats are a provocation and sabotage of the status quo of peace in the Taiwan Strait and region."

"Only through abandoning military threats, facing up to the reality of political division between the sides and undertaking pragmatic communication and dialogue can we help heal the differences between the sides," it said in a statement.

Taiwan denounced the exercises last week in the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides as a threat to regional peace and stability and said it would make no concessions.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and says the two sides, separated during a civil war in 1949, must eventually be united, by force if necessary. Any potential conflict could quickly draw in the United States, since Washington is legally bound to respond to threats to the island's security and is its chief supplier of foreign military hardware.

China's authoritarian Communist government severed ties with Taipei almost two years ago after independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen refused its demand to recognize the democratic island as a part of Chinese territory.

Long-simmering tensions between the sides have spiked again in recent weeks. Beijing was especially angered by comments by Taiwan's premier, William Lai, in parliament that he's a "Taiwanese independence worker."

Chinese officials have also denounced the recent passage of a U.S. law encouraging more high-level government contacts with Taiwan, saying that violates U.S. commitments not to restore formal exchanges severed when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Ties have also been roiled by U.S. plans to provide Taiwan with submarine manufacturing technology, a proposed arms sale and the appointment of hawkish U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Along with the recent war games involving aviation units of the People's Liberation Army ground force, China has stepped up air force training flights around Taiwan and increased naval activity in the South and East China seas.

Diplomatically, it has blocked Taiwan from taking part in international forums it used to attend and has sought to squeeze the island's tourism industry by cutting back on the numbers of Chinese visitors traveling there.

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