UPDATE - 'Seizing control': Chinese military holds drills around Taiwan

UPDATE - 'Seizing control': Chinese military holds drills around Taiwan

42 Chinese jets fly around Taiwan, a move in response to island nation’s vice president's 'stopover' in US on way to Paraguay

UPDATES WITH LATEST STATEMENT BY TAIWAN'S DEFENSE MINISTRY, CHANGES DECK

By Faruk Zorlu and Riyaz ul Khaliq

ANKARA / ISTANBUL (AA) - Chinese armed forces launched a drill Saturday around Taiwan in response to Vice President Lai Ching-te's "stopover" in the US before visiting Paraguay earlier this week.

The drills were aimed at “seizing control of air and sea spaces," by the Eastern Theater Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) which included maritime and aerial combat readiness patrols around the island nation.

"The patrols and exercises are meant to train the coordination of military vessels and airplanes and their ability to seize control of air and sea spaces," said PLA command spokesman Shi Yi.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry said it detected at least 42 Chinese jets around the island nation.

It said 26 of jets crossed median line - which Beijing does not recognize- in the Taiwan Strait.

The PLA Eastern Command spokesman Shi said Chinese armed forces' "ability to fight in real combat conditions will be tested" during the drill.

"The patrols and exercises serve as a stern warning to the collusion of 'Taiwan independence' separatists with foreign elements and their provocations," he added.

Beijing had strongly condemned the “stopover” by Lai and had vowed to take “forceful measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“At the very heart of China's core interests, the Taiwan question is the bedrock of the political foundation of China-US relations and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations,” Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin said Friday.

He added that Washington’s decision to arrange the so-called "stopover" sent “seriously wrong signals to separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence’."

Lai returned home early Friday after a week-long trip, with a two-day "stopover" in the US before heading to Paraguay where he attended a presidential inauguration.

He received support but faced protests from the Taiwanese diaspora and Chinese during his 25-hour layover in New York. On his return flight, Lai had a brief stopover in San Francisco.

Lai is also a presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progress Party in the election slated for January.

Wang said the US “stubbornly pursues the strategy of using Taiwan island to control China, and continues to hollow out the one-China principle."

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