China has issued a warning against attempts to “split” its territory as it prepares to stage live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday.
The manoeuvres are being seen by observers as a clear message of disapproval against growing support for the self-ruled island from the United States.
The drills, which are the first to be carried out in the sensitive waters since the 2015 election in Taiwan, are also being viewed as a warning against what Beijing sees as growing moves towards independence from the Taipei Government.
Liu Jieyi, the head of the Beijing-based Taiwan Affairs Bureau said the drills are being carried out to “safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the motherland”.
He added: “(The mainland) has enough willingness, confidence and determination to prevent any words or deeds which attempt to split any territory away from the motherland.”
Politicians in Taipei accusing Beijing of “amplified” rhetoric about the live-fire drills said they were aimed at terrorising the Taiwanese people, and warned against “unnecessary interpretations” of the exercises.
Legislator Lo Chih-cheng, from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and a member of the parliament’s national defence committee, said that the exercises would be routine and not very large, reported the Taipei Times.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen made a somewhat barbed comment on Twitter early on Tuesday, shortly before departing for a state visit to Swaziland, stressing Taiwan’s commitment to democracy.
The president left as planned for a state visit to the tiny African nation, one of Taiwan’s 20 remaining diplomatic allies, despite calls from some quarters that she should cancel the trip and focus on cross-Strait relations during the Chinese exercises.
“Last Friday, I was proud to see our Navy & Air Force successfully perform the drills in eastern Taiwan,” she Tweeted, referring to the first naval exercise she oversaw since becoming president in 2016, drills which did not involve any live fire.
“We have every confidence and determination to defend our country and democracy,” Ms Tsai added.
China’s drills come after President Xi Jinping oversaw the biggest naval exercises in the country’s history last week.
Tensions between Beijing and Taipei have escalated in recent weeks over increasing US involvement in Taiwan.
Washington last month signed the Taiwan Travel Act, which will allow more official visits between the US and Taipei.
It also agreed to help Taipei build its own submarines, a move which Chinese media said made war “more probable” between China and Taiwan.
Beijing has claimed Taiwan since defeated nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949 after losing the civil war with Mao Tse-tung’s Communists.
It views Taiwan as a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to reunite it with the mainland.
Additional reporting by Christine Wei