China Holds Military Drills Near Taiwan Amid Election Tension

  • Exercises disclosed 5 days after China-friendly party ousted
  • Live-fire drills 'routine, scheduled' training, Taiwan says

China said it held live-fire military drills off its coast opposite Taiwan, the first such exercises announced since the island elected a president from a party that supports independence over the weekend.

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The People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 31 -- based in the southeastern Chinese port city of Xiamen, adjacent to the Taiwan’s Kinmen Island -- conducted landing exercises that involved amphibious attack vehicles, fighter jets and long-range rockets, China Central Television said Thursday. The exact location and timing of the drills was unclear. CCTV said they took place "in recent days" and the military channels of several mainland news portals including Sohu and QQ said the drills were launched after the Taiwan vote on Saturday.

"It was the Chinese military’s routine, scheduled winter training," said David Lo, a spokesman for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. "The Taiwanese military is aware."

The elections saw Tsai Ying-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party officially supports independence from the mainland, defeat Eric Chu from the ruling Kuomintang in a landslide. While Tsai has pledged to uphold relations with China, she hasn’t accepted the Communist Party’s framework for talks, casting doubt on efforts to improve ties, which prospered under outgoing KMT President Ma Ying-jeou.

The two sides still haven’t formerly resolved their civil war that ended more than 60 years ago and regularly hold military drills off their own coasts. In September, the Chinese military conducted three days of live-fire exercise in the Taiwan Strait, just after Taiwan held drills simulating a Chinese submarine attack on Kinmen, which is located just off mainland China and was once the site of fierce fighting.

Unit 31 has long been charged with monitoring the strait and consequently holds a prestigious position within the PLA. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who served 17 years as an official in the surrounding Fujian province, has visited the unit at least a dozen times, including a trip in 2014 and another in 2002 to participate in the planning of its headquarters, according to state media.

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