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International Relations

China conducts live-fire drills in Taiwan Strait

Exercises likely aimed at making Washington keep its distance from Taipei

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa attend a drill near Yilan naval base, Taiwan, on April 13.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- China held live-fire naval exercises in the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, according to Taiwanese media, likely intending to cow the island's pro-independence government and warn the U.S. against cozying up with Taipei.

Sounds of gunfire and shelling could be heard off China's Fujian Province, some reported, as Beijing made good on last week's surprise announcement of the drills.

The administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party are ruining progress toward peace with China, said Liu Jieyi, director of the mainland State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, on Monday. The drills were intended to protect the sovereignty and territory of the fatherland, Liu said.

Both Washington and Taipei have tested Beijing's nerves repeatedly of late. In March, the U.S. passed a law encouraging diplomatic exchanges with Taiwan, suggesting a shift from decades-old policy toward the island, which has formal relations left with just 20 countries. The Chinese drills may have been geared as a message that drawing closer to Taiwan would interfere with Sino-American trade negotiations amid rising tensions on the commercial front.

Taiwanese Premier Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, reiterated this month his view that the island is an independent country, drawing reproach from Liu.

On Wednesday, Taiwanese cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung described the drills as regular and small-scale. The mainland was grandstanding, and Taiwan had no need to take the bait, Hsu argued.

Taiwan held its own naval drills last Friday off its northeastern region. While Tsai has at many points tried to appear unobtrusive to China and support the status quo, pressure from Beijing is growing, making opportunities for dialogue difficult to find. Signs of strain are building as the self-governed island appears increasingly confrontational toward the mainland.

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