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China holds military exercise near Taiwan after island inaugurates new president

China on Thursday launched a two-day military exercise near Taiwan after the island inaugurated William Lai Ching-te as its new president on Monday. Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA-EFE
China on Thursday launched a two-day military exercise near Taiwan after the island inaugurated William Lai Ching-te as its new president on Monday. Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA-EFE

May 23 (UPI) -- China deployed naval and air forces around Taiwan on Thursday, as it launched a two-day military exercise just days after the island's presidential inauguration of William Lai Ching-te.

China's Eastern Theatre Command of the Chinese People's Army said the drills, codenamed Joint Sharp Sword-2024A, began at 7:45 a.m. local time in the Taiwan Strait and areas surrounding the self-governing, democratic island of some 23. 5 million people.

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In response, Taiwan scrambled naval, air and ground forces to combat what it called China's "irrational provocation."

China frequently deploys war assets to Taiwan in a tactic called "gray zone" warfare, raiding its air defense identification zone, in an effort to drain it of morale and resources.

However, the two-day exercise was initiated just three days after Lai's inauguration on Monday, which he used to call on Beijing to drop its bellicose rhetoric and destabilizing actions and seek co-existence with the island and respect the decisions of its voters.

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Beijing views the island as a rouge province it has vowed to take back by force if necessary, though the island has never been a part of the People's Republic of China, which was founded in 1949.

China has called Lai a separatist, and Chen Binhua, spokesman for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, described the new leader's speech to reporters Tuesday as being "full of hostility and provocation, lies and deception."

"The leader of the Taiwan region incites 'anti-China' and 'resist China' sentiments, attempting to use military means to seek independence, which will only push Taiwan into the perilous situation of war and disaster, bringing profound calamity to the vast majority of Taiwan compatriots," he said.

China's Eastern Theatre Command said in a statement that its two-day exercise serves "as a powerful punishment for Taiwan independence separatists forces" and as a warning against the interference of external forces.

"This exercise also serves as a powerful punishment for 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces and a serious warning against external forces' interference and provocations," the command said in a statement.

Taiwan's ministry of defense said it "expressed regret" over Beijing's "destruction of regional peace and stability."

"This military exercise is not only helpless to the peace and stability of the Taiwan Sea, but also highlights its hegemonic nature," it said.

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