China holds aircraft carrier drills in waters near Taiwan

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FILE – In this April 23, 2019, file photo, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy aircraft carrier Liaoning participates in a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China’s PLA Navy in the sea near Qingdao in eastern China’s Shandong province. China says it is holding naval drills involving the battlegroup of the aircraft carrier Liaoning in waters near Taiwan. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool, File)

BEIJING (AP) — China is holding naval drills involving an aircraft carrier battlegroup near Taiwan it said were aimed at safeguarding Chinese sovereignty, an apparent allusion to Beijing’s claim to the self-governed island.

The navy said the exercises involving the Liaoning, one of its two aircraft carriers, were routine and assigned under an annual schedule. China has been steadily upping its threat to take control of the island militarily with exercises and routine incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone by Chinese warplanes.

The navy’s statement late Monday did not say when the exercises began or how long they would last, but it said more such drills will be held in the future.

It said the naval exercises aimed to “assist in improving the ability to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” terms often interpreted as being directed at Taiwan’s democratically elected government, which has refused to give in to Beijing’s demands that it recognize the island as part of Chinese territory.

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China operates two aircraft carriers, of which the Liaoning, originally purchased as a hulk from Ukraine, is the first, having been operating in a combat role since at least 2019.

U.S. military officials and observers have recently warned of increased Chinese threats toward Taiwan, which split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949. The U.S. has agreed to recent sales of upgraded warplanes, missiles and other defensive hardware to Taiwan and the island is also revitalizing its own defense industries, particularly by starting a submarine development program.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Sunday said Japan will cooperate with the United States to calm rising tensions between China and Taiwan, saying Taiwan’s peace and stability is key to the region.

Suga is set to meet with President Joe Biden in Washington in the coming days, the U.S. leader’s first in-person summit since taking office in January.

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