BEIJING (AP) — Recent Chinese war games near Taiwan were a deliberate signal to the leaders of the island and its foreign backers that Beijing intends to make good on its vow to defend what it considers Chinese sovereignty, a government spokesperson said Wednesday.
Ma Xiaoguang of the Chinese Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office said the exercises were a “necessary measure" because Taiwan's leaders had been engaging in activities aimed pushing the island's formal independence from China. He said Taiwan's leaders had sought support from abroad and were doing so in a bid to hamper China's development.
“The situation between the sides at present is even more grave and complicated. The Democratic Progressive Party authorities and the Taiwanese independence forces are behind this," Ma said, referring to Taiwan's ruling party, which renewed its hold on the presidency and parliament in elections earlier this year.
“We have the determination and the capability to defeat all Taiwan independence activities and absolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Ma told reporters at a regularly schedule briefing.
Taiwan said Chinese warplanes entered its airspace over two days last week during the large-scale war games that it called a “serious provocation to Taiwan and a grave threat to regional peace and stability.”
It said such actions by China’s People’s Liberation Army threaten the entire region and urged the international community to respond.
China has been stepping up its threat to bring the self-governing island under its control by military force with frequent war games and aerial patrols. That follows the apparent failure of its efforts to win over the island's 23 million people to the prospect of political unification under the “one country, two systems" framework in place in China, with a large majority of Taiwanese favoring maintaining the status quo of de facto independence.
China cut contacts with Taiwan’s government following the 2016 election of independence-minded President Tsai Ing-wen, who was re-elected this year, and has sought to isolate her diplomatically while ratcheting up political, military and economic pressure.
At Wednesday's briefing, Ma repeatedly side-stepped questions about the decision by Taiwan’s China-friendly Nationalist Party not to send a delegation to attend an annual cross-strait economic and cultural forum in the Chinese city of Xiamen following remarks by a Chinese television presenter seen as disparaging.
After repeated questioning, Ma said his understanding was the decision was dictated by Taiwanese internal politics, citing unidentified media sources in Taiwan.
Ma also denied reports that the Chinese presenter had been asked to apologize for her statement that the Nationalist delegation was coming “begging for peace."
The Nationalists have lost badly in the past two presidential elections, largely as a result of perceptions that they are too close to Beijing and willing to sell out Taiwan's interests for political and economic gain. The party had run Taiwan for decades, partly under martial law, after Chiang Kai-shek moved it to the island following the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949.
China has sought relentlessly to isolate the Tsai's government even while she draws closer to key ally the United States. Beijing has whittled Taiwan's roster of diplomatic allies down to just 15 and blocked its representatives from attending international gatherings, demanding that Tsai agree to recognize Taiwan as a part of Chinese territory.
On Tuesday, Taiwanese foreign ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou protested British-based conservation group BirdLife International’s move to exclude Taiwan’s Chinese Wild Bird Federation as a result of the Chinese government’s “intervention and suppression regarding ecological conservation activities.”
“BirdLife International cooperated with China to oppress the wild bird society of Taiwan. Its political consideration is an obstacle to international conservation activities,” Ou said.
In a statement, the Chinese Wild Bird Federation said BirdLife had demanded it to sign a document formally committing to not promote or advocate the legitimacy of the Republic of China, Taiwan's formal name, or the independence of Taiwan from China.
“As an apolitical organization which has never taken a stance on any such issue, we felt it was inappropriate to sign such a document and were unable to comply. We are not political actors, we are conservationists," the federation said.
BirdLife International did not immediately respond to requests for comment.