Taiwan practices ‘enemy annihilation’ after China steps up activity

FILE PHOTO: Members of the National Security Bureau take part in a drill next to a national flag at its headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Pichi C

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s armed forces carried out live fire drills on its west coast on Thursday practicing “enemy annihilation on the shore,” ahead of its main annual exercises later this month and as China steps up military activities near the island it claims.

Taiwan has complained in recent months of repeated Chinese air force patrols near it, in some cases crossing into Taiwan-controlled airspace. In April, a Chinese naval flotilla led by the country’s first aircraft carrier passed near Taiwan.

China claims the democratic island as its own territory, and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control. Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by China.

The drills, in a coastal area facing the sensitive Taiwan Strait, simulated fending off an attempted landing by enemy forces, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

They involved Taiwan’s most modern fighter jet the F-16V, Apache attack helicopters, tanks and artillery, which fired live rounds, the ministry added, showing pictures of plumes of water in the sea where ordinance had hit their targets.

The drills were aimed at improving the military’s effectiveness at “enemy annihilation on the shore” and to “prevail along the coastline” to stop an enemy invasion, it said.

Taiwan later this month holds its main annual Han Kuang military exercise, which was postponed from earlier this year due to the new coronavirus.

Taiwan’s military is well-trained and well-equipped, mostly with U.S.-made weapons, and President Tsai Ing-wen has made boosting the island’s defenses a top priority since she first won office in 2016.

However Taiwan faces an increasingly formidable and far larger Chinese military, which has been undergoing its own modernization program, adding stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Chinese bomber approaches Taiwan in latest fly-by near island

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Chinese air force jets, including at least one bomber, briefly entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Monday, before being warned off by its air force, the island’s military said, the eighth such encounter in two weeks.

The encounter came on the day President Tsai Ing-wen oversaw a test flight of a new locally-developed advanced trainer jet as she pushes to boost democratic Taiwan’s defenses, particularly as China ramps up its own military modernization.

Taiwan’s air force named the Chinese aircraft involved as the H-6 bomber and J-10 fighter jet but did not say how many planes in total flew into the identification zone to the island’s southwest.

The Chinese air force received verbal warnings to leave via radio, and patrolling Taiwanese fighters also “proactively drove off” the aircraft, Taiwan’s air force said in a short statement, without giving details.

The H-6 is a nuclear-capable bomber based on an old Soviet design that has participated in several such drills near Taiwan, including what China calls “island encirclement” exercises around the Chinese claimed-island.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has previously said its drills near the island are routine and designed to show Beijing’s determination to protect its sovereignty. Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by autocratic China.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Factbox: China’s numerous diplomatic disputes

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is engaged in diplomatic disputes on numerous fronts, from acrimony with the United States to a backlash over its clampdown on Hong Kong, a border dispute with India and criticism over its handling of the novel coronavirus.

Following are some of the main points of contention between China and other countries:

UNITED STATES

From disputes over trade and technology, to U.S. criticism over the coronavirus outbreak and China’s accusation of U.S. backing for protests in Hong Kong, ties between the world’s two biggest economies are at their lowest point in decades.

HONG KONG

China’s plan to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong provoked U.S. retaliation and disapproval from other Western capitals. The city’s former colonial ruler Britain said it would offer extended visa rights to British national overseas (BNO) passport holders from Hong Kong.

CORONAVIRUS

Several countries, including the United States and Australia, have called for China to be held to account for its early handling of the coronavirus, which emerged late last year in the city of Wuhan. China has also faced criticism for what some have characterized as heavy-handed “virus diplomacy”.

TAIWAN

China has stepped up diplomatic and military pressure on Chinese-claimed but democratically ruled Taiwan, trying to coax it into accepting Chinese rule. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, re-elected by a landslide in January, has rejected that, saying only Taiwan’s people can decide its future.

INDIA

China and India are engaged in the most serious military standoff on their disputed border since 2017, with soldiers in the remote Ladakh region accusing each other of encroachment.

XINJIANG

China has been criticized in Washington and elsewhere over its treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims in its western Xinjiang region. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation calling for sanctions on officials responsible for the oppression of Uighurs.

HUAWEI

The United States has raised security concerns over equipment provided by Chinese telecoms gear giant Huawei, warning that allies that use it in their networks risked being cut off from valuable intelligence-sharing feeds. Last month, the United States moved to block global chip supplies to Huawei, which denies that its equipment poses a security risk.

CANADA

Ties have been strained since Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the firm’s founder, in late 2018. Soon after, China detained two Canadians and blocked imports of some canola seed. Meng lost a court ruling last month in her fight against extradition to the United States.

EUROPEAN UNION

EU foreign ministers agreed last week to toughen their strategy on China to counter its increasingly assertive diplomacy against a backdrop of concern about Hong Kong. The bloc has been frustrated over market access for its companies in China, which has sought to block an EU report alleging that China was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, according to diplomatic sources.

AUSTRALIA

China last month imposed tariffs on barley imports from Australia, the latest escalation between them. Relations soured in 2018 when Australia banned Huawei from its 5G broadband network, and China has been angered by Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China has overlapping claims in the energy-rich South China Sea, which is also an important trade route, with the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. The United States has accused China of taking advantage of the distraction of the coronavirus to advance its presence in the waters.

(Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Robert Birsel)

After WHO setback, Taiwan president to press for global participation

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will strive to actively participate in global bodies despite its failure to attend this week’s key World Health Organization (WHO) meeting, and will not accept being belittled by China, President Tsai Ing-wen will say on Wednesday.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won January’s presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide, vowing to stand up to China, which claims Taiwan as its own, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed.

China views Tsai, who will be sworn into office for her second and final term on Wednesday, as a separatist bent on formal independence for Taiwan. She says Taiwan is already an independent state called the Republic of China, its official name.

Tsai will say at her inauguration that Taiwan will seek to “actively participate” in international bodies and deepen its cooperation with like-minded countries, generally a reference to the United States and its allies, according to an outline of her speech provided by Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang.

Taiwan sees the need for participation in WHO as all the more urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first reported in China.

Taiwan is locked out of most global organisations like the WHO due to the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a sovereign state.

Despite an intense lobbying effort and strong support from the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and others, it was unable to take part in this week’s meeting of the World Health Assembly.

On relations with China, Tsai will reiterate her commitment to peace, dialogue and equality, but that Taiwan will not accept China’s “one country, two systems” model that “belittles” Taiwan.

China uses this system, which is supposed to guarantee a high degree of autonomy, to run the former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It has offered it to Taiwan too, though all major Taiwanese parties have rejected it.

Tsai will also pledge to speed up the development of “asymmetric warfare” capabilities, and boost renewable technologies in a move to position Taiwan as a hub of clean energy in the Asia Pacific.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Taiwan wades into hotly contested Pacific with its own coronavirus diplomacy

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan waded into the hotly contested politics of the Pacific on Wednesday, donating face masks and thermal cameras to its four diplomatic allies there to combat the coronavirus in a region where China is challenging traditional power the United States.

The small developing nations lie in the highly strategic waters of the Pacific, dominated since World War Two by the United States and its friends, who have been concerned over China’s moves to expand its footprint there.

Democratic Taiwan has faced intense pressure from China, which claims the island as its territory with no right to state-to-state ties, and is bent on wooing away its few allies.

Taiwan has only 15 formal allies left worldwide after losing two Pacific nations, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, to China in September.

Beijing has ramped up its diplomatic push into the Pacific, pledging virus aid and medical advice.

In its own aid programme, Taiwan has donated 16 million masks to countries around the world.

“We are a very small country, so it’s easier for us to work with Taiwan than mainland China,” Neijon Edwards, the Marshall Islands ambassador to Taiwan, told Reuters at the donation ceremony in Taipei.

China has been too overbearing, she added.

“It’s pressing too much, and it’s been trying to come to the Marshall Islands, several times, but up to this time we haven’t even opened the door yet.”

While the masks presented at the ceremony are going to Taiwan’s Pacific allies, all its 15 global allies are sharing the thermal cameras.

“Today’s ceremony once again shows that Taiwan is taking concrete actions not only to safeguard the health of Taiwanese people but also to contribute to global efforts to contain COVID-19,” said Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

Though Pacific Island states offer little economically to either China and Taiwan, their support is valued in global forums such as the United Nations and as China seeks to isolate Taiwan.

China has offered to help developing countries including those of the Pacific, and many see Chinese lending as the best bet to develop their economies.

But critics say Chinese loans can lead countries into a “debt trap”, charges China has angrily rejected.

The debt issue was a serious problem and would only lead to the spread of Chinese influence regionwide, said Jarden Kephas, the ambassador of Nauru.

“They will end up dominating or having a lot of say in those countries because of the amount of debt,” he told Reuters, wondering how the money could ever be repaid. “We are not rich countries.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Taiwan tells agencies not to use Zoom on security grounds

(Reuters) – Taiwan’s cabinet has told government agencies to stop using Zoom Video Communications Inc’s conferencing app, the latest blow to the company as it battles criticism of its booming platform over privacy and security.

Zoom’s daily users ballooned to more than 200 million in March, as coronavirus-induced shutdowns forced employees to work from home and schools switched to the company’s free app for conducting and coordinating online classes.

However, the company is facing a backlash from users worried about the lack of end-to-end encryption of meeting sessions and “zoombombing”, where uninvited guests crash into meetings.

If government agencies must hold video conferencing, they “should not use products with security concerns, like Zoom”, Taiwan’s cabinet said in a statement on Tuesday. It did not elaborate on what the security concerns were.

The island’s education ministry later said it was banning the use of Zoom in schools.

Zoom did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Taiwan would be the first government formally advising against use of Zoom, although some U.S. schools districts are looking at putting limits on its use after an FBI warning last month.

Zoom Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan last week apologized https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/04/01/a-message-to-our-users to users, saying the company had fallen short of the community’s privacy and security expectations, and was taking steps to fix the issues.

Zoom competes with Microsoft’s Teams, Cisco’s Webex and Google’s Hangouts.

Taiwan’s cabinet said domestically-made conferencing apps were preferred, but if needed products from Google and Microsoft could also be considered.

Zoom’s shares dipped 1% in premarket trading on the Nasdaq. They have lost nearly a third of their market value since touching record highs late March.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; editing by Patrick Graham)

In Taiwan, anger at China over virus drives identity debate

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Anger at being confused with China amid the coronavirus outbreak and Beijing’s stepped-up efforts to assert sovereignty is stirring heated debate in Taiwan about how to further distance itself from its giant and often threatening neighbour.

At its core is a debate about whether to drop “China” from the island’s official name, the Republic of China.

During the virus crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO), which considers the island part of China, has listed Taiwan’s far lower case number under China’s, and China has repeatedly insisted only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the global stage, including about health issues.

Taipei says this has confused countries and led them to impose the same restrictions on Taiwanese travellers as on Chinese, and has minimised Taiwan’s own successful efforts to control the virus.

Taiwan has been debating for years who it is and what exactly its relationship should be with China – including the island’s name. But the pandemic has shot the issue back into the spotlight.

Lin I-chin, a legislator for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said in parliament last month that Taiwan should change its English name to “Republic of Chunghwa”, an English rendering of the word Taiwan uses for China in its name.

“Taiwan has been brought to grief by China,” she said.

On Sunday, the New Power Party, one of Taiwan’s smaller opposition groups, released the results of a survey in which almost three-quarters of respondents said Taiwan passports should only have the word “Taiwan” on them, removing any reference to China.

“During this epidemic period, our people have been misunderstood by other countries, highlighting the urgency of changing the English name,” it said in a statement.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has given a cautious response to the passport idea, noting that according to the constitution, the official name is Republic of China and that the word Taiwan was already added to passport covers in 2003.

“In the future, if there is consensus between the ruling and opposition parties on this new name, the Foreign Ministry shall cooperate in handling it,” spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

But the government is wary of a name change for Taiwan, saying there is no consensus for such a radical move.

Although the DPP supports the island’s independence – theoretically meaning the official formation of a Republic of Taiwan – President Tsai Ing-wen says there is no need to do so, as the island is already an independent country called the Republic of China. She often refers to the island as the Republic of China, Taiwan.

‘REPUBLIC OF TAIWAN’

Premier Su Tseng-chang has said changing the island’s name isn’t the most urgent issue facing Taiwan.

“If we want to change then it might as well be to ‘Republic of Taiwan’. Taiwan is more well known,” Su said in parliament. “But if there’s no national consensus, a name change isn’t the most important thing for now.”

Taiwan’s official name is a throwback to when the Kuomintang party fled to the island after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists in 1949, and continued to claim to be China’s legitimate government.

“The Republic of China is a country, Taiwan is not,” Chen Yu-jen, a Kuomintang legislator from the island of Kinmen, which sits just offshore from the Chinese city of Xiamen, told parliament on Monday.

The statement drew a sharp rebuke from Su, who told reporters it meant Chen had no right to be a member of the legislature. Chen said she was simply stating the facts, and that Taiwan is a geographic name, not a national name.

China’s pressure on Taiwan diplomatically and militarily during the virus crisis has also reduced Beijing’s already low standing in the eyes of many Taiwanese.

A March poll commissioned by Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council and carried out by Taipei’s National Chengchi University showed more than three-quarters of respondents believed China’s government was unfriendly to Taiwan’s, the highest level in a decade.

Any name change would infuriate China, which has a law mandating the use of force to stop Taiwan independence.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

U.S. increases support for Taiwan, China threatens to strike back

By Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law an act that requires increased U.S. support for Taiwan internationally, prompting a denunciation by China, which said it would strike back if the law was implemented.

China claims democratic and separately ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and regularly describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.

While the United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up backing for the island, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.

The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, signed by Trump into law on Thursday with strong bipartisan support, requires the U.S. State Department to report to Congress on steps taken to strengthen Taiwan’s diplomatic relations.

It also requires the United States to “alter” engagement with nations that undermine Taiwan’s security or prosperity.

Taiwan complains that China is poaching the dwindling number of countries that maintain formal ties with Taipei and has prevented it from participating in bodies like the World Health Organization.

China says Taiwan is merely one of its provinces, with no right to the trappings of a state.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture on her Twitter page of Taiwan’s flag fluttering next to the U.S. one under the words “Friends in freedom, partners in prosperity”, to welcome Trump’s signing of the law.

It was “a testament to Taiwan-U.S. friendship & mutual support as we work together to address global threats to human health & our shared democratic values”, she wrote in English.

‘RESOLUTE STRIKE’

China has stepped up its military drills around Taiwan in recent weeks despite the outbreak of the coronavirus, which emerged in a central Chinese province late last year and spread rapidly in China and beyond.

Taiwan says China should focus more on fighting the disease than menacing it.

China is already angry about U.S. accusations it poorly handled the coronavirus outbreak, and the new law adds to Sino-U.S. tension.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the U.S. act contravened international law, was a “crude” interference in China’s internal affairs and obstructed other sovereign states from developing normal relations with China.

“We urge the United States to correct its mistakes, not implement the law, or obstruct the development of relations between other countries and China, otherwise it will inevitably encounter a resolute strike back by China,” Geng said, without giving details.

One of the authors of the act, Senator Cory Gardner, said it was needed to respond to Chinese pressure on, and bullying of, Taiwan.

“This bipartisan legislation demands a whole-of-government approach to ramp up our support for Taiwan, and will send a strong message to nations that there will be consequences for supporting Chinese actions that undermine Taiwan,” he said in a statement.

The United States has been particularly concerned about China hiving off Taiwan’s allies in the Pacific and Latin America, areas of the world Washington traditionally considers its zone of influence.

Taiwan now only has diplomatic relations with 15 countries, almost all small and developing nations like Nauru, Belize and Honduras.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Taiwan school uses dividers during lunch to counter coronavirus

TAIPEI (Reuters) – A school in Taiwan’s capital Taipei is going to unusual lengths to protect its students from the coronavirus – putting up bright yellow dividers on their desks during lunch to reduce their risk of infection while eating.

While a growing number of countries have suspended classes until further notice to try and slow the spread of the virus, Taiwan’s schools are operating as normal, albeit with heightened bio-security measures.

Taiwan has won plaudits from experts for the way it has controlled the virus, and has only reported 50 cases, compared with more than 80,000 in its giant neighbor China. However the island is on high alert to ensure the virus is contained.

Students at the Dajia Elementary School are asked to disinfect their shoes and hands before entering the school’s premises, while a security guard takes their temperature.

What sets the school apart, though, is the bright yellow dividers erected on their desks at lunchtime when students take off the surgical masks they have to wear during class in order to eat.

“Schools have to make the most comprehensive preparations,” said school headmaster Li Chung-hui, who first came up with the idea to make dividers from affordable corrugated plastic board. One divider costs less than T$50 ($1.66).

The students don’t seem too fazed about having to eat behind the dividers.

“I think that we can prevent bacteria from coming close,” said Tu Yu-chieh, 6.

(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

Taiwan says U.S. flies bombers near island after China’s drills

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Three U.S. Air Force planes, including two B-52 bombers, flew near Taiwan on Wednesday, the island’s defense ministry said, after Taiwan’s air force scrambled earlier in the week to intercept Chinese jets.

The United States is Taiwan’s most important international backer, even in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, and is also the island’s main source of arms.

Tensions spiked between Taiwan and China, which claims the island as its own, on Sunday and Monday, as Taiwan sent F-16s to shadow approaching Chinese bombers and fighters.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said one U.S. MC-130, a special mission aircraft based on the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, flew down the Taiwan Strait in a southerly direction on Wednesday.

The two U.S. B-52 bombers skirted Taiwan’s east coast, also in a southerly direction, the ministry added.

The U.S. Air Force has a major base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, which is near Taiwan.

Speaking in Singapore, a senior U.S. State Department official, Clarke Cooper, referred to the Chinese flights and told CNBC it was “completely inappropriate of China to take such an aggressive act.”

“That aggressive act is not just a reflection on China‚Äôs relationship with Taiwan, it certainly is reflective about how China may be looking at the entire region in total,” said Cooper, the assistant secretary for political-military affairs.

On Tuesday, a State Department spokeswoman said China should “immediately cease its coercive efforts” and resume dialogue with Taipei.

China has described its exercises on Sunday and Monday as actions to guard national sovereignty.

It has been flying what it calls “island encirclement” drills since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first took office. Beijing believes Tsai, who won re-election last month, wishes to push the island’s formal independence.

Tsai says Taiwan is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

Taiwan has urged China to focus its efforts on fighting the new coronavirus rather than menacing the island.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that China’s military activities had only caused anger on the island and harmed the peaceful development of relations across the strait.

“Our government will continue to adopt a pragmatic and restrained stance, prudently handle cross-strait relations, and deepen cooperation with countries with similar ideals, including the United States, in response to the rising Chinese military threat,” she added.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard in Taipei and David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Catherine Evans, Andrew Cawthorne and Paul Simao)