TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan's defense ministry said Wednesday that Beijing is using "cheap verbal intimidation and saber-rattling" to threaten Taiwan as China's military in sensitive Taiwan Strait began amid mounting tensions with live fire exercises.
The exercises take place in the southeastern Chinese city of Quanzhou, between two groups of islands near the Chinese coast, but since 1949, when defeated nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War.
The Chinese state media have said that the exercises are a direct response to "provocations" by Taiwanese leaders on China's fears to further the island's formal independence.
"The Chinese Communists have used cheap verbal intimidation and saber-rattling in every aspect of the Republic of China in the hope of influencing our morality or creating social unrest," said Chen Chung-chi, Defense Department spokesman.
Chen described some Chinese comments as "nonsense" that the exercises were bigger than usual this time. Chen said they are just a short-range shooting practice near the Chinese coast, no cross-strait military exercises.
"That's why we say it's verbal intimidation and saber-rattling … using public opinion to exaggerate the falseness … and forcefully engaging in an exercise to unify Taiwan." [1
Chinese state television said the exercises would start at 8 am (0000 GMT) and last until midnight, but would not immediately provide any other details.
Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive issues and a potential military hotspot. China conducted military exercises throughout Taiwan last year, including flying bombers on the island.
The recent Chinese military moves come at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and the self-governing island, following strong warnings from Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.
China claims Democratic Taiwan to itself and considers the island a renegade province.
China's hostility to Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen won the 2016 presidential election on the island from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
Recently, comments by Taiwanese Prime Minister William Lai have angered Taiwan's independence, although the island's government says Lai's position remains that the cross-strait status quo should be maintained.
Chinese state television said in a report on its WeChat account that the exercises were at least partially a response to Lai's comments.
"Do not say you were not warned," it said.
China was also upset over steps in Washington to bolster its unofficial relationship with Taipei, including arms sales.
Reporting by Clare Jim; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Arrangement by Greg Torode and Michael Perry