Chinese warship starts live-fire drills near Taiwan

FUZHOU, China, April 8 (Reuters) – A Chinese warship in seas facing the Taiwan Strait began live-fire drills on Saturday as Beijing began military exercises it calls a warning against what it considers pro-Taiwan independence forces.

The amphibious landing ship – capable of transporting troops, craft and vehicles – fired multiple rounds of artillery on Saturday morning in the Luoyan Bay area on the coast of Fujian province, about 50 km (30 miles) northwest of the Matsu islands near the mainland that are controlled by Taiwan.

China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan’s government strongly objects to China’s claims.

Smoke and muzzle flares were visible from the stern of the warship as shells were fired on targets on land and water. Fishing boats and huge cargo vessels cruised nearby, avoiding the drill area.

The warship did not sail towards the windswept Matsu islands, controlled by Taiwan since the Republic of China government fled to Taipei in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist forces. The area is considered an early target for Beijing in the event of a military escalation.

China’s Eastern Theater Command, one of the five commands of the People’s Liberation Army that oversees the East China Sea including the Taiwan Strait, said combat readiness patrols would be conducted around Taiwan for three days as a “serious” warning against pro-Taiwan independence forces and to safeguard China’s territorial integrity.

Drills to the north, south and east of the island of Taiwan were also planned, after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the United States, drawing anger from Beijing.

An oil refinery worker surnamed Zhao at a village southeast of the drill area told Reuters he was used to seeing the drills as he grew up in the city of Qingdao in eastern Shandong province up the Chinese coast.

“I wasn’t aware that there’s a drill here until I came, but I’m not surprised at all because I’ve seen it a lot of times,” said Zhao, 40.

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

Reporting by Thomas Peter and Josh Arslan; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by William Mallard

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