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Chinese Warships Drill in Waters Near Taiwan

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (C) arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on June 26.US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (C) arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on June 26.

A formation of Chinese warships has been holding daily combat drills for more than a week in waters near Taiwan, China’s state media said on Tuesday, amid heightened tension between Beijing and the self-ruled island.

Since June 17, a group of navy warships, including a Type 054A frigate and a Type 052C destroyer, have been conducting exercises near Taiwan, including in the Bashi Channel and the Taiwan Strait, said 81.cn, an official publication of the Chinese army, Reuters reported.

“The drills tested the military and training abilities of warship, aviation and coastal defense troops, via organizing real combat training in multiple areas of the ocean,” it said. It was not clear if the drills had ended.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement the vessels were monitored continuously and there was no cause for alarm.

China claims Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control what it sees as a wayward province. Taiwan has shown no interest in being governed by Beijing.

 Mattis Arrives in China

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for meetings with senior Chinese leaders, as the world waits for indications that North Korea is taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, AP reported.

The North Korean negotiations are expected to be a primary discussion during Mattis’ meetings in China. Beijing is considered a key influencer on Pyongyang and Chinese President Xi Jinping said last week that China would “as always play a constructive role” in the process.

Kim was in Beijing for a two-day visit last week and met with Xi. The Chinese president said at the time that he hoped that Pyongyang and Washington could fully implement the outcome of the summit earlier this month between Trump and Kim.

Defense officials believe China can exert crucial sway on North Korea, moving negotiations forward because Beijing also wants a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

One senior US official said it will soon be clear whether North Korea is serious about implementing the summit agreement. The US will present North Korea with a series of requests and a specific timeline for various phases of the denuclearization, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal communications. The official did not provide details on what the requests would be or what the timeline would look like.

How Pyongyang responds, said the official, will indicate whether Kim is operating in good faith.

Mattis is expected to meet with a range of officials during his visit to China, including US diplomats and senior Chinese military leaders.

It is unclear, however, how much Mattis’ progress with the Chinese leaders will be affected by the roiling trade war between the US and China.

Trump has already imposed tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum.

 US Overtures Toward Taiwan

United States overtures toward Taiwan, from unveiling a new de facto embassy to passing the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages US officials to visit, have further escalated tension between Beijing and Taipei.

Sino-US ties are under growing pressure over burgeoning trade friction, the North Korean nuclear crisis and escalating activity in the disputed waterway of the South China Sea.

Early in June, Mattis, in a strongly worded speech at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, warned of Chinese intimidation in the South China Sea, adding that the United States was ready to “compete vigorously” if needed.

China often says the United States’ acknowledgement of its “one-China” policy is foundational for two-way ties, and that Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in the relationship.

The United States is considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, US officials said in early June. Such a passage, should it happen, could be seen in Taiwan as a fresh sign of support by Trump.

The last time a US aircraft carrier transited the Taiwan Strait was in 2007, during the administration of George W. Bush, and some US military officials believe a carrier transit is overdue.

In recent months, China’s air force has held military maneuvers near the island, which Taipei has denounced as intimidation.

China’s hostility toward Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections on the island in 2016.

 

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