BEIJING (AP) — China is again heating up the rhetoric against rival Taiwan, with a spokesman saying Wednesday that Taiwan's cancellation of added flights during the Lunar New Year holiday "hurt the feelings of people on both sides."
Spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office Ma Xiaoguang said the move to cancel 176 flights over the holiday beginning Feb. 16 is creating inconveniences and is "foolish and unpopular."
"The irrational action by the Taiwan authorities creates inconvenience for tens of thousands of travelers and difficulties to a great many families on both sides during the Lunar New Year," Ma said at a bi-weekly news conference.
"It has hurt the feelings of people on both sides, for which the Taiwanese authorities bear the full responsibility," Ma said.
Taiwan complains it was not properly consulted about the opening of route M503 and that it poses a danger to planes landing and taking off from on islands near the Chinese coast controlled by Taiwan. The move announced by Beijing on Jan. 4 also takes aircraft near a Taiwanese military zone.
Taiwan announced in response that China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines will not be allowed to add flights during the holiday, the most important time of the year for family gatherings in Taiwan, China and other parts of Asia.
China and Taiwan divided amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing threatens to use force to take control of the self-governing island republic. It has been increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on the island since the inauguration of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016.
Tsai has refused to endorse Beijing's contention that Taiwan is part of a single Chinese nation that must eventually be unified. China's ruling Communist Party, which wields the world's largest standing military, has refused to rule out the use of force to achieve that goal.
China sent bombers and fighter planes to fly around Taiwan twice in December and this month sent its sole operating aircraft carrier through the 100-mile (160-kilometer)-wide Taiwan Strait with its battle group.
The Chinese planes flew near South Korean and Japanese air space, prompting Japan to dispatch fighter planes to intercept them.