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US commander says China’s rocket fire over Taiwan must be challenged

#commander #Chinas #rocket #fire #Taiwan #challenged

China’s recent decision to launch missiles over Taiwan is a “gorilla in space” that needs to be challenged, a senior US military commander said Tuesday.

Beijing held huge air and sea drills around Taiwan this month in an angry response to the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation.

Those drills included launching multiple ballistic missiles into waters off Taiwan — some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes — and it was the first time China had taken such a move since the mid-1990s.

“It’s very important that we challenge things like this. I know the gorilla in space is launching missiles over Taiwan,” Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, commander of the Seventh Fleet, told reporters in Singapore.

“If we just allow that and don’t deny that, that’s going to be the next norm,” he added.

“It is irresponsible to launch missiles over Taiwan into international waters where shipping routes lie, where free shipping works.”

The Seventh Fleet is based in Japan and is a core part of Washington’s naval presence in the Pacific.

During exercises this month, Chinese state media reported that some of the ballistic missiles fired by the People’s Liberation Army traced a trajectory directly over Taiwan’s capital Taipei, a new escalation that Beijing has been unable to confirm.

Thomas likened the threats against Taiwan to the South China Sea, where Beijing has spent years establishing military bases and installations on a series of contested atolls while denying having done just that.

“If you don’t challenge it … suddenly it can become like the islands in the South China Sea (which) have now become military outposts,” he said.

“They are now fully operational military outposts with missiles, large airstrips, hangers, radars and listening posts.”

China’s Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, but it considers the island its territory and has vowed to one day conquer it, by force if necessary.

Saber-rattling against Taiwan has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

– New sanctions –

The United States and Western allies have increased naval vessel crossing of “freedom of navigation” in both the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to bolster the concept that those seas are international waterways, sparking anger in Beijing.

China said it held fresh military drills Monday when a delegation of US lawmakers visited Taipei.

State media released footage and images of Taiwan’s Penghu Islands allegedly taken by Chinese jets flying a short distance from the archipelago.

But Taiwan denied that Chinese jets came near Penghu.

“The CCP used cognitive warfare and other tricks to exaggerate and show that (their jet) Penghu was close. That’s not true,” senior Air Force official Tung Pei-Lun told reporters on Tuesday.

The Penghu Islands lie between mainland China and Taiwan.

They are home to a major Taiwanese air base and would be at the forefront of any attempt to invade Beijing.

As China continues drills, Taiwan’s army said it will hold an armed F-16 drill Wednesday night in the coastal city of Hualien to showcase its advanced military capabilities.

In a further move to increase economic pressure on Taiwan, Beijing on Tuesday sanctioned seven senior Taiwanese officials for being “hard-core ‘independence’ separatists,” the official Xinhua news agency said.

The sanctions, mainly on figures from President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, were imposed because their activities “became all the more outrageous” during Pelosi’s visit, Xinhua said.

The sanctioned individuals are banned from entering China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and banned from doing business with mainland companies.

Taipei said China was “trying to have a deterrent effect” through the sanctions, which included the island’s de facto envoy to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim.

An opinion poll released on Tuesday showed that most of the Taiwanese public is not intimidated by the exercises.

According to the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation, 45 percent of respondents said they were not afraid at all, and 33 percent said they were not very afraid of the exercises. Five percent said they were very afraid.

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