BEIJING – China renewed its threats Wednesday to attack Taiwan and warned that foreign politicians who interact with the self-governing island are “playing with fire.”
A spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office said the country was recommitted in the new year to “safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity” and “smashing plots for Taiwan independence” on the self-governing democracy that separated from mainland China in 1949.
“The malicious support for Taiwan independence among anti-China elements in a few foreign countries are a deliberate provocation,” Ma Xiaoguang said at a biweekly news conference.
China views Taiwan as a Chinese territory that must be brought under Beijing's control, by force if necessary. A string of visits in recent months by foreign politicians to Taiwan, including by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous politicians from the European Union, spurred displays of military might from both sides.
This week, Taiwan’s military is staging drills intended to reassure the public of its ability to counter China’s threats ahead of this month’s Lunar New Year holiday.
“The most important thing is to maintain the safety of our airspace and national security,” air force Lt. Col. Wu Bong-yeng told reporters at Hsinchu Air Base just south of the capital, Taipei.
The drills coincide with a visit from German and Lithuanian lawmakers — the latter Baltic state being a particular target of Chinese ire for upgrading its ties with Taiwan.
“We call on the relevant countries to … cease sending the wrong signals to Taiwan independence separatist forces and cease playing with fire on the question of Taiwan," Ma said.
China has responded to foreign visits by holding large-scale military exercises seen by some as a rehearsal for a blockade or invasion. Beijing sends airplanes and warships toward Taiwan on a near-daily basis, often crossing the midline of the 160 kilometer (100 miles) Taiwan Strait dividing the sides. At the end of December, China sent a record 71 planes and seven ships toward Taiwan — the largest such scale exercise in 2022.
China’s efforts to isolate the island diplomatically have left Taiwan with just 14 official diplomatic partners, although it retains robust unofficial relations with key ally the U.S. and more than 100 nations around the world.
Associated Press reporter Johnson Lai in Hsinchu, Taiwan, contributed to this report.