China says U.S. military in South China Sea not good for peace

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States often sends ships and aircraft into the South China Sea to “flex its muscles” and this is not good for peace, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, after a U.S. aircraft carrier group sailed into the disputed waterway.

The strategic South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade flows each year, has long been a focus of contention between Beijing and Washington, with China particularly angered by U.S. military activity there.

The U.S. carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt and accompanied by three warships, entered the waterway on Saturday to promote “freedom of the seas,” the U.S. military said, just days after Joe Biden became U.S. president..

“The United States frequently sends aircraft and vessels into the South China Sea to flex its muscles,” the foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told reporters, responding to the U.S. mission.

“This is not conducive to peace and stability in the region.”

China has repeatedly complained about U.S. Navy ships getting close to islands it occupies in the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan all have competing claims.

The carrier group entered the South China Sea at the same time as Chinese-claimed Taiwan reported incursions by Chinese air force jets into the southwestern part of its air defense identification zone, prompting concern from Washington.

China has not commented on what its air force was doing, and Zhao referred questions to the defense ministry.

He reiterated China’s position that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and that the United States should abide by the “one China” principle.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited a radar base in the north of the island on Monday, and praised its ability to track Chinese forces, her office said.

“From last year until now, our radar station has detected nearly 2,000 communist aircraft and more than 400 communist ships, allowing us to quickly monitor and drive them away, and fully guard the sea and airspace,” she told officers.

Taiwan’s defense ministry added that just a single Chinese aircraft flew into its defense zone on Monday, an anti-submarine Y-8 aircraft.

Biden’s new administration says the U.S. commitment to Taiwan is “rock-solid”.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is the democratic island’s most important international backer and main arms supplier, to China’s anger.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

China warns of action after Pompeo says Taiwan not part of China

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China will strike back against any moves that undermine its core interests, its foreign ministry said on Friday, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Taiwan “has not been a part of China.”

China calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States, and has been angered by the Trump administration’s stepped up support for the Chinese-claimed yet democratically ruled island, such as arms sales.

Speaking in a U.S. radio interview on Thursday, Pompeo said: “Taiwan has not been a part of China”.

“That was recognized with the work that the Reagan administration did to lay out the policies that the United States has adhered to now for three-and-a-half decades,” he said.

The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, and officially only acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of it, rather than explicitly recognizing China’s claims.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Taiwan was an inalienable part of China and that Pompeo was further damaging Sino-U.S. ties.

“We solemnly tell Pompeo and his ilk, that any behavior that undermines China’s core interests and interferes with China’s domestic affairs will be met with a resolute counterattack by China,” he said, without elaborating.

China has put sanctions on U.S. companies selling weapons to Taiwan, and flew fighter jets near the island when senior U.S. officials visited Taipei this year.

The defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after loosing a civil war to the communists, who founded the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman, Joanne Ou, thanked Pompeo for his support.

“The Republic of China on Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country, and not part of the People’s Republic of China. This is a fact and the current situation,” she said.

Taiwan officials will travel to Washington next week for economic talks, which have also annoyed Beijing.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

U.S. drone sale to Taiwan crosses key hurdle, nears approval: sources

By Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The sale of four sophisticated U.S.-made aerial drones to Taiwan has crossed a key hurdle in Congress and is at the last stage of approval, sources said on Monday, a deal likely to add to already strained ties with China.

The $600 million deal would be the first such sale since U.S. policy on the export of sophisticated and closely guarded drone technology was loosened by the Trump administration.

Reuters reported in recent weeks on the administration moving ahead with four other sales of sophisticated military equipment to Taiwan, with a total value of around $5 billion, as it ramps up pressure on China and concerns rise about Beijing’s intentions toward the island.

The U.S. State Department could formally notify Congress of the sale later this week, one of the people said. The formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, but this is unlikely given broad bipartisan support for the defense of Taiwan.

The four MQ-9 SeaGuardian drones, made by General Atomics, would come with associated ground stations and training. While the drones are armable, they will be outfitted with surveillance equipment, the people said.

Reuters reported in September that sales of major weapons systems to Taiwan were making their way through the U.S. export process.

On Oct. 21, the State Department sent notifications to Congress for the first tranche of arms sales to Taiwan. They included truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp, Rocket System (HIMARS) Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles and related equipment made by Boeing Co, and external sensor pods for F-16 jets.

On Oct. 26 the United States moved ahead with the proposed sale of 100 cruise missile stations and 400 land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles made by Boeing Co.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that it has vowed to bring under control, by force if necessary. Washington considers it an important democratic outpost and is required by law to provide it with the means to defend itself.

(Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)

Taiwan should fortify itself against future Chinese invasion: White House adviser

By Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – While China probably is not ready to invade Taiwan for now, the island needs to “fortify itself” against a future attack or any bid to isolate it through nonmilitary means, such as an embargo, the White House national security adviser said on Friday.

“I think Taiwan needs to start looking at some asymmetric and anti-access area denial strategies,” Robert O’Brien told an online Aspen Institute forum. “And really fortify itself in a manner that would deter the Chinese from any sort of amphibious invasion or even a gray zone operation against them.”

He described a gray zone operation as one that would involve isolating Taiwan by economic measures or some kind of embargo.

Rising tensions over Taiwan have led some analysts to speculate China might be tempted to take advantage of a possibly chaotic result of the hotly contested U.S. election to make good on a long-standing vow to reunite the island with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Asked if he was concerned that China could launch an amphibious invasion of Taiwan or employ nonmilitary means to subdue the island, O’Brien said he did not think “the Chinese probably at this point want or likely are prepared for an amphibious landing.”

“It would be a hard operation for the Chinese to do” and Beijing would have to consider how the United States would respond, he said. “If we got involved, that can make that a very dangerous effort for the Chinese to engage in.”

China could use its massive missile force to “annihilate” Taiwan, “but I don’t know what they would gain from that,” he said.

The “entire free world” and most of the Asia-Pacific region would be “repelled” if China employed an embargo or other “gray zone” methods to isolate Taiwan and the country would end up isolating itself internationally, he said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)

Taiwan military says it has right to counter attack amid China threats

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan said on Monday its armed forces have the right to self-defense and counter attack amid “harassment and threats,” in an apparent warning to China, which last week sent numerous jets across the mid-line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

Tensions have sharply spiked in recent months between Taipei and Beijing, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, to be taken by force if needed.

Chinese aircraft crossed the mid-line to enter the island’s air defense identification zone on Friday and Saturday, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets to intercept them, and President Tsai Ing-wen to call China a threat to the region.

In a statement, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had “clearly defined” procedures for the island’s first response amid “high frequency of harassment and threats from the enemy’s warships and aircraft this year”.

It said Taiwan had the right to “self-defenses and to counter attack” and followed the guideline of “no escalation of conflict and no triggering incidents”.

Taiwan would not provoke, but it was also “not afraid of the enemy”, it added.

MID-LINE “DOES NOT EXIST”

Taiwanese and Chinese combat aircraft normally observe the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and do not cross it, although there is no official agreement between Taipei and Beijing on doing so, and the rule is observed unofficially.

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing. “The so-called mid-line of the Strait does not exist.”

Since 2016 Taiwan has reported only five Chinese incursions across the line, including the two last week.

Late on Monday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported two Chinese anti-submarine aircraft had flown into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – but not over the mid-line – to the island’s southwest, and were warned away by Taiwanese fighters.

The drills came as Beijing expressed anger at the visit of a senior U.S. official to Taipei.

On Monday, the official China Daily newspaper said the United States was trying to use Taiwan to contain China but nobody should underestimate its determination to assert its sovereignty over the island.

“The U.S. administration should not be blinkered in its desperation to contain the peaceful rise of China and indulge in the U.S. addiction to its hegemony,” it said in an editorial.

China has been angered by stepped-up U.S. support for Taiwan, including two visits in as many months by top officials, one in August by Health Secretary Alex Azar and the other last week by Keith Krach, undersecretary for economic affairs.

The United States, which has no official diplomatic ties with the island but is its strongest international backer, is also planning major new arms sales to Taiwan.

China this month held rare large-scale drills near Taiwan, which Taipei called serious provocation. China said the exercise was a necessity to protect its sovereignty.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, and Gabriel Crossly in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

Taiwan scrambles jets as 18 Chinese planes buzz during U.S. visit

By Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan scrambled fighter jets on Friday as 18 Chinese aircraft buzzed the island, crossing the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, in response to a senior U.S. official holding talks in Taipei.

China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as part of its territory, and the United States.

U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades – to which China had promised a “necessary response.”

The U.S. State Department has said Krach, who arrived in Taipei on Thursday afternoon, is in Taiwan for a memorial service on Saturday for former President Lee Teng-hui, who was revered by many on the island and internationally as the father of Taiwan’s democracy.

But Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of large-scale air and sea drills last week.

With a U.S. presidential election looming in November, Sino-U.S. relations are already under huge strain from a trade war, U.S. digital security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved on Friday, far more than in previous such encounters and entered its southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

“Sep. 18, two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossed the mid-line of the TaiwanStrait and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ,” the defense ministry said in an English-language tweet.

Combat aircraft from both sides normally avoid passing through the Taiwan Strait mid-line.

“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities.” The ROCAF, Taiwan’s air force, has scrambled frequently in recent months in response to Chinese intrusions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the Trump administration’s rhetorical offensive against China, accused Beijing of bluster when asked about the Chinese activity.

“We sent the delegation to a funeral, and the Chinese have apparently responded by military blustering. I’ll leave it at that,” he told a news conference on a visit to Guyana.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it was another example of China using its military as a tool of coercion.

“The PLA’s aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history,” a Pentagon spokesman said, using an acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of Chinese jets crossing the mid-line.

Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper said Taiwanese jets had scrambled 17 times over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away. It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 fighter at the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast.

‘REASONABLE, NECESSARY ACTION’

In Beijing, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday’s maneuvers, about which he gave no details, involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theater command.

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.

He said Taiwan was a purely internal Chinese affair and accused its ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of stepping up “collusion” with the United States.

Trying to “use Taiwan to control China” or “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” was wishful thinking and futile. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” Ren said.

Taiwan’s presidential office urged China to exercise restraint, and urged the Taiwanese not to be alarmed, saying the military had a grasp on the situation.

Government officials in Taiwan, including President Tsai Ing-wen, have expressed concern in recent weeks that an accidental military encounter could spark a wider conflict.

Hu Xijin, editor of China’s widely read state-backed Global Times tabloid, wrote on his Weibo microblog that the drills were preparation for an attack on Taiwan should the need arise, and that they enabled intelligence-gathering about Taiwan’s defense systems.

“If the U.S. secretary of state or defense secretary visits Taiwan, People’s Liberation Army fighters should fly over Taiwan island, and directly exercise in the skies above it,” he added.

Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the mid-line last month while U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China carried out two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

The United States, like most countries, has official ties only with China, not Taiwan, though Washington is the island’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan’s top envoy in New York. China’s U.N. mission said it had lodged “stern representations” over the meeting.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Additional reportnmg by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

Taiwan denounces large-scale Chinese drills near island

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan denounced China on Thursday over large-scale air and naval drills off its southwestern coast which it called a serious provocation and a threat to international air traffic.

It urged Beijing to rein in its armed forces.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own, has stepped up military exercises near the island, in what Taipei views as intimidation to force it to accept Chinese rule.

Yeh Kuo-hui, from Taiwan’s defense ministry’s operations and planning department, told a hastily-arranged news conference that China’s intentions could not be predicted.

“We must make all preparations for war readiness,” Yeh said, following a news briefing from senior officers describing the Chinese activities over the last two days, and showing a map of Chinese movements.

The drills took place in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, between mainland Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands, the ministry said. Taiwan says China sent advanced Su-30 and J-10 fighters to participate.

Taiwan Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping said the drills threatened regional stability and endangered international aviation, he said.

“We once again say, do not underestimate the military’s determination to defend our home. We are confident and capable of defending the country,” Chang said.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the government had shared “information related to China’s threat to key friendly nations”, a likely reference to the United States, Taiwan’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment. China has held numerous military exercises up and down its coast and near the island in recent weeks.

Taiwan has this week been carrying out live-fire weapons tests off its southeast and eastern coast.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has warned of a rising risk of accidental conflict, saying communication must be maintained to cut the risk of miscalculation.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Timothy Heritage)

Pentagon concerned by China’s nuclear ambitions, expects warheads to double

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China is expected to at least double the number of its nuclear warheads over the next decade from the low 200’s now and is nearing the ability to launch nuclear strikes by land, air and sea, a capacity known as a triad, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The revelations came as tensions rise between China and the United States and as Washington seeks to have Beijing join a flagship nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia.

In its annual report to Congress on China’s military, the Pentagon said that China has nuclear warheads in the low 200’s, the first time the U.S. military has disclosed this number. The Federation of American Scientists has estimated that China has about 320 nuclear warheads.

The Pentagon said the growth projection was based on factors including Beijing having enough material to double its nuclear weapons stockpile without new fissile material production.

The Pentagon’s estimate is in line with an analysis by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“We’re certainly concerned about the numbers … but also just the trajectory of China’s nuclear developments writ large,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, told reporters.

Earlier this year, China’s Communist Party-backed newspaper Global Times said Beijing needs to expand the number of its nuclear warheads to 1,000 in a relatively short time.

Sbragia said China was also nearing completion of its nuclear triad capacity, suggesting China is further along than previously publicly known. China has only two of the three legs of triad operational but is developing a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile.

The report said that in October 2019, China publicly revealed the H-6N bomber as its first nuclear capable air-to-air refueling bomber.

Washington has repeatedly called for China to join in trilateral negotiations to extend New START, a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty that is due to expire in February.

China has said it has no interest in joining the negotiation, given that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is about 20 times the size of China’s.

In July, a senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing would “be happy to” participate in trilateral arms control negotiations, but only if the United States were willing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to China’s level.

China’s growing nuclear arsenal should not be used as an excuse for the United States and Russia not to extend New START, Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association advocacy group, said.

It “further reinforces the importance of extending New START and the folly of conditioning extension on China and China’s participation in arms control,” Reif added.

China’s nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the United States’, which has 3,800 nuclear warheads stockpiled, and Russia’s, which has roughly 4,300, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

“PREVENT TAIWAN INDEPENDENCE”

Tensions have been simmering between China and the United States for months. Washington has taken issue with China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. The increasingly aggressive posture comes as President Donald Trump bids for re-election in November.

Another source of tension has been Taiwan. China has stepped up its military activity around the democratic island Beijing claims as sovereign Chinese territory, sending fighter jets and warships on exercises close to Taiwan.

The Pentagon report, based on 2019 information, said China’s military continued to “enhance its readiness” to prevent Taiwan’s independence and carry out an invasion if needed.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

China says latest U.S. sailing near Taiwan ‘extremely dangerous’

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s military said on Wednesday the latest U.S. navy sailing near Chinese-claimed Taiwan was “extremely dangerous” and stirring up such trouble was in neither country’s interests.

The U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin sailed through the narrow and sensitive Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, the U.S. navy said, in what have become relatively routine trips in recent months, though they always anger China.

The Eastern Theater Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army said its air and naval forces followed and monitored the U.S. ship throughout its voyage.

“Any words or deeds that … cause trouble in the Taiwan Strait are not in line with the fundamental interests of China and the United States, harm the well-being of compatriots on both sides of the strait, pose real threats to peace and stability in the region and are extremely dangerous”, it said.

Chinese forces will remain on high alert at all times to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it added.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said the U.S. ship was on an “ordinary mission” and passed through the Taiwan Strait in a southerly direction.

The sailing comes a week after U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan, the highest level U.S. official to travel to the island since Washington broke off diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979.

China responded by sending fighter jets close to Taiwan.

China considers Taiwan a purely domestic matter, and routinely calls it the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with the United States.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei)

U.S. health chief, visiting Taiwan, attacks China’s pandemic response

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar attacked China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and said that if such an outbreak had emerged in Taiwan or the United States it could have been “snuffed out easily”.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for trying to cover up the virus outbreak, first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and prevaricating on information sharing. China angrily denies the accusations.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said in Taipei, capital of self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.

As the virus emerged, China did not live up to its “binding” international obligations in a betrayal of the cooperative spirit needed for global health, he added, wearing a face mask as he has done for all his public events in Taiwan.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public,” Azar said.

“Instead, Beijing appears to have resisted information sharing, muzzling doctors who spoke out and hobbling the world’s ability to respond.”

The United States has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world and President Donald Trump has come under scathing attack from critics at home for not taking what he calls the “China virus” seriously enough.

Taiwan has been praised by health experts for its early and effective steps to control the outbreak, with only 480 infections, including seven deaths.

Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned by China.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has vowed to bring it under its rule, by force if necessary.

Chinese fighter jets on Monday briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and were tracked by Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles, part of what Taipei sees as a pattern of harassment by Beijing.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing but is still Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority as relations with China sour over issues including human rights, the pandemic, Hong Kong and trade.

Azar said the world should recognize Taiwan’s health accomplishments and not try to push it out, pointing to Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization due to Chinese objections.

“This behavior is in keeping with Beijing’s approach to WHO and other international organisations. The influence of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) far outweighs its investment in this public health institution – and it uses influence not to advance public health objectives, but its own narrow political interests.”

Both China and the WHO say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs during the pandemic, which Taiwan disputes.

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