August 31, 2017 / 9:42 AM / 23 days ago

After Taiwan alarm, China says air force drills were routine

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that a recent series of air force exercises around self-ruled Taiwan were routine, after Taiwan’s military said this month it was on a high state of alert following three straight days of drills.

The Chinese aircraft, which have included bombers and advanced fighter jets, staged exercises flying through the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines and up to the north of Taiwan, by Japan’s Miyako island, according to Taiwan’s government.

The drills were the latest in a series of exercises conducted by China near Taiwan and Japan in the past several weeks.

China said nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

“These activities are routine exercises by the Chinese air force,” Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a monthly news briefing when asked about the most recent drills around Taiwan.

He did not elaborate. China frequently refers to such exercises as routine.

China has been increasingly asserting itself in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. It is also worried about Taiwan, run by a government China fears is intent on independence.

Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring proudly democratic Taiwan under its control, and has warned that any moves towards formal independence could prompt an armed response.

China is in the midst of an ambitious military modernisation programme that includes building aircraft carriers and developing stealth fighters to give it the ability to project power far from its shores.

Taiwan is well armed with mostly U.S. weaponry, but has been pressing Washington to sell it more high-tech equipment to better deter China.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

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