© Reuters. Soldiers stand on the deck of a Chinese warship as it sails during a military drill near Fuzhou, Fujian Province, near the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands that are close to the Chinese coast, China, April 8, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
By Thomas Peter and Josh Arslan
FUZHOU, China (Reuters) -A Chinese warship in seas facing the Taiwan Strait began live-fire drills on Saturday as Beijing launched military exercises it calls a warning against what it considers pro-independence forces in Taiwan.
The amphibious landing ship – capable of carrying troops and vehicles – fired multiple artillery rounds in the Luoyan Bay area on the coast of Fujian province, about 50 km (30 miles) northwest of the Matsu islands near the mainland that are controlled by Taiwan.
China views the democratically governed island of Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control. Taiwan’s government strongly objects to China’s claims.
Smoke and muzzle flares were visible on the stern of the warship as it fired shells at targets on land and at sea. Fishing boats and cargo vessels cruised nearby, steering clear of the exercise zone.
The warship did not sail towards the windswept Matsu islands, controlled by Taiwan since the Republic of China government fled to Taipei in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.
The area is considered a likely early target for Beijing in the event of a military escalation.
China’s Eastern Theater Command, one of the five commands of the People’s Liberation Army that oversees the East China Sea including the Taiwan Strait, said combat readiness patrols would be conducted around Taiwan for three days as a “serious” warning against pro-independence forces in Taiwan and to safeguard China’s territorial integrity.
Drills to the north, south and east of the island of Taiwan were also planned, after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the United States on Wednesday, infuriating Beijing.
An oil refinery worker surnamed Zhao at a village southeast of the drill area told Reuters he was used to seeing military exercises as he had grown up in the city of Qingdao, just up the coast.
“I wasn’t aware that there’s a drill here until I came, but I’m not surprised at all because I’ve seen it a lot,” said Zhao, 40.
When asked about Taiwan, Zhao said he hoped the two sides could “reunite” as quickly as possible.
Forty-two Chinese fighter jets also briefly crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait on Saturday. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it had spotted eight Chinese ships.
At the 68-Nautical-Mile tourist spot in Fujian’s Pingtan, one of the closest points in China to the main island of Taiwan, a 25-year-old college student surnamed Chen said he hoped China would reclaim Taiwan during his lifetime.
“I personally hope we could reclaim Taiwan in a peaceful way,” he said. “The drills are just a way to show our national strength, after all.”