China says it is conducting military exercises near the Taiwan Strait to “protect its sovereignty” even as a top US official visits Taiwan.
The live-fire drills come amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington, and as the US moves to shore up its support of the island. China regards self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province.
Keith Krach is the highest-level official from the US State Department to visit the island in decades.
On Friday, China’s defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang accused the US and Taiwan of “stepping up collusion, frequently causing disturbances”, although he did not make any reference to the visit.
He told reporters that “using Taiwan to control China” or trying to “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” was wishful thinking. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” he said.
Mr Ren did not give details about the military exercise, which involves the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theatre command, but described them as “legitimate and necessary for the mainland to protect its sovereignty and integrity”. They follow two days of large-scale Chinese drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast last week.
Washington said Mr Krach, who is the US undersecretary of economic affairs, was visiting Taiwan to attend a memorial service for late president Lee Teng-hui on Saturday.
Later on Friday he is scheduled to meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen for dinner at her official residence. However, there are no open media events on his agenda. The visit comes at a time US-China relations have plummeted to their lowest point in years. The two nations have been locked in a bitter trade war since 2018, clashed over the coronavirus pandemic and traded accusations of espionage with mounting arrests of suspected Chinese spies in the US in recent months. The souring relations have also affected other areas, including a US clampdown on China’s tech firms and the revoking of Chinese student visas.
Although the US does not have a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act allows it to sell arms to the island, and commits it to “close relations”. When a US cabinet member met President Tsai in Taipei last month China responded angrily. “We urge the US… not to send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ elements to avoid severe damage to China-US relations,” a foreign ministry spokesman said at the time.