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China announces drills around Taiwan following US Speaker meeting

BEIJING (Reuters): China will conduct three days of military exercises around Taiwan beginning Saturday, according to the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, the day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen returned from a trip to the United States.

China will conduct “combat readiness patrols” and exercises in the Taiwan Strait and to the north, south, and east of Taiwan “as planned,” according to a brief statement.

Tsai met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles on Wednesday, infuriating Beijing, which regards Taiwan as its own territory.

There was no immediate response from Taiwan’s government, though the island’s defense ministry said on Saturday morning that four Chinese aircraft had been spotted in Taiwan’s air defense zone in the previous 24 hours, which is not an unusual number.

Later on, Saturday, Tsai will meet with a visiting US congressional delegation led by Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In a commentary published on Saturday, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, stated that the government has “a strong ability to thwart any form of Taiwan independence secession.”

“All countermeasures taken by the Chinese government are part of China’s legitimate and legal right to protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.

Tsai, who strongly opposes Beijing’s claims to sovereignty, has repeatedly offered talks with China but has been turned down because the government regards her as a separatist. She claims that only the people of Taiwan can decide their future.

If the meeting took place, China threatened unspecified retaliation. After then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August, Beijing staged war games around the island, including live missile launches.

However, unlike in August, China has yet to announce whether or not it will conduct missile exercises. Then, at the same time as it announced the drills, China published a map showing which maritime areas near Taiwan it would be firing into.

Taiwanese officials expected a less severe reaction to the McCarthy meeting because it was held in the United States, but they did not rule out China staging more drills.

China’s announcement came just hours after French President Emmanuel Macron left China after meetings with senior leaders, including President Xi Jinping, during which Macron urged Beijing to talk sense to Russia about the Ukraine conflict.

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is in China this week to meet Xi, also stressed the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait.

According to China’s official reading of the meeting, Xi responded by saying that expecting China to compromise on Taiwan was “wishful thinking.”

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