TAIPEI (Reuters) - China’s air force has carried out 16 rounds of exercises close to Taiwan in the last year or so, Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Tuesday, warning that China’s military threat was growing by the day.
China considers self-ruled and democratic Taiwan to be its sacred territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring what it views as a wayward province under Chinese control.
China has taken an increasingly hostile stance towards Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen from the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections last year.
Beijing suspects her of pushing for the island’s formal independence, a red line for China. Tsai says she wants peace with China, but that she will defend Taiwan’s security and way of life.
In a lengthy report, Taiwan’s defense ministry listed the number of times China’s air force had drilled near the island since the end of October last year and which aircraft were involved, including bombers and advanced fighter jets.
Of the 16 drills, 15 of them were around Taiwan, flying through the Bashi Channel which separates Taiwan from the Philippines and near Japan’s Miyako island, to the north of Taiwan. The other drill was through the Bashi Channel and out into the Pacific.
China has repeatedly said the drills are routine.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said China was the island’s biggest security threat.
“The Chinese military’s strength continues to grow rapidly,” it said.
“There have been massive developments in military reforms, combined operations, weapons development and production, the building of overseas military bases and military exercises, and the military threat towards us grows daily.”
Chinese missiles can already cover all of Taiwan, and China has been improving its abilities in long-range anti-ship missiles “to build an ability to resist foreign forces”, the ministry added.
Tensions rose earlier this month after a senior Chinese diplomat threatened that China would invade Taiwan if any U.S. warships made port visits there.
Taiwan is well equipped with mostly U.S.-made weapons, but has been pressing Washington to sell more advanced equipment.
The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, to China’s distaste.
Proudly democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by autocratic China, and Taiwan’s government has accused Beijing of not understanding what democracy is all about when it criticizes Taipei.
Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie