Chinese warship begins live-fire exercise near Taiwan

FUZHOU, China, April 8 (Reuters) – A Chinese warship began live-fire drills on Saturday in the sea facing the Taiwan Strait, Beijing’s latest military exercise.

The amphibious landing craft — capable of carrying troops and vehicles — fired multiple cannons into the Luoyan Bay area off the coast of Fujian Province, about 50 km (30 mi) northwest of the Matsu Islands near the Taiwanese-controlled mainland.

China regards the democratically-ruled island of Taiwan as its own territory and has never given up using force to bring it under its control. Taiwan’s government strongly objected to China’s claim.

Smoke and muzzle flares were visible from the bow of the battleship as it fired bombs at targets on land and at sea. Fishing boats and cargo ships sail nearby and steer clear of the exercise zone.

Since the Republic of China fled to Taipei in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist forces, the warship has not headed for the windward Matsu Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan.

The region is seen as an early target for Beijing in the event of military expansion.

China’s Eastern Theater Command, one of the People’s Liberation Army’s five commands that monitor the East China Sea, including the Taiwan Strait, said it would conduct three days of combat readiness patrols around Taiwan. To protect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and China.

Drills were planned for the north, south and east of Taiwan island after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the US on Wednesday, angering Beijing.

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An oil refinery worker surnamed Zhao in a village southeast of the drill site told Reuters he grew up in Qingdao, just up the coast, and was used to watching military exercises.

“I didn’t know there was a practice here until I came, but I’m not surprised because I’ve seen a lot of it,” Zhao, 40, said.

When asked about Taiwan, Zhao said he hoped the two sides could “reunite” as soon as possible.

Forty-two Chinese warplanes crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait on Saturday. Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had spotted eight Chinese vessels.

At the 68-nautical-mile tourist spot in Fujian’s Pingtan, one of China’s closest points to the mainland island of Taiwan, a 25-year-old college student surnamed Chen said he hoped China would reclaim Taiwan in his lifetime.

“I personally believe that Taiwan can be restored in a peaceful way,” he said. “Exercises are a way to show our national strength.”

Reporting by Thomas Peter and Josh Arslan; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Written by Ryan Wu; Editing: William Mallard

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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