China publicizes landing drills near Taiwan after elections

AP News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2016 6:36 AM

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese forces recently held live-fire landing exercises along the coast opposite Taiwan, the military's official television channel said Thursday, days after the self-governing island elected an independence-leaning president.

CCTV7 said the drills were staged by the 31st Group Army based in Xiamen near the Taiwanese-held island of Kinmen, considered one of the People's Liberation Army's "frontline" units for any action regarding Taiwan. It said only that the exercises were held "recently" without giving an exact date.

Equipment used in the drills included long-range rockets, self-propelled howitzers, amphibious tanks and helicopters, the channel said. No details on the numbers of troops or equipment were given.

The Defense Ministry did not immediately say whether the drills were related to Saturday's election that was won by Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party.

China routinely says its exercises are planned well in advance and not timed to respond to specific events.

However, noting the units involved and the physical similarity of the exercise area to parts of Taiwan's coastline, the popular Sina Military website said that "given the certain amount of risk the two sides are facing today, the hypothetical target of the 31st Group Army's exercises might be those 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces."

The 31st Group Army is one of three army groups within the Nanjing Military District that has primary responsibility for eventualities involving Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province to be reunited with by force if necessary.

During the 1950s, sections of the army took part in the shelling of forces on Kinmen in a continuation of the Chinese civil war that forced Chiang Kai-shek's forces to shift his Nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949. Units of the army also joined in military drills and missile tests in 1995 and 1996 aimed at intimidating Taiwanese into voting for pro-unification candidates in the island's first direct presidential election.

That attempt at intimidation ultimately backfired as defiant voters re-elected Lee Teng-hui and the U.S. Navy stationed two aircraft battle groups into waters near Taiwan.

Tsai has refused to endorse Beijing's "one-China principle," which states that the island and the mainland are part of the same Chinese nation. However, she has also pledged to maintain the status-quo, keep open channels of communication and not to provoke China.