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China using U.S. lawmakers' visit as excuse for latest drill: Taiwan

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U.S. Senator Ed Markey (front, left) chats with President Tsai Ing-wen during his visit to Taipei on Monday. Photo courtesy of Presidential Office

Taipei, Aug. 16 (CNA) Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Tuesday that the recent visit to Taiwan by a United States congressional delegation was being used by China as a pretext to stage a new round of live-fire military exercises near Taiwan.

MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said visits to Taiwan by foreign congress members have been part of the routine exchanges among democratic countries for decades.

The visit to Taipei by American Senator Ed Markey and his delegation over the past two days was being used by China as an excuse to launch its latest military drills, Ou said.

Beijing's actions in that regard are "ridiculous" and "barbaric," she said. "Taiwan strongly condemns China's extremely irresponsible behavior."

China's latest live-fire military exercises are seen likely to further destabilize regional peace and disrupt one of the busiest air and shipping routes in the Indo-Pacific region.

Ou said democratic countries around the world should all condemn China's actions.

On Monday, hours after Markey and his bipartisan congressional delegation arrived in Taipei, the Chinese military said it was resuming exercises near Taiwan in response to what Beijing described as an infringement of its sovereignty.

The 21-hour visit that began late Sunday came 12 days after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and five other House members landed in Taipei on Aug. 2 for a 19-hour visit, which China responded to with nearly a week of intensive military drills that encircled Taiwan.

The new exercises that began Monday involved joint combat readiness patrols and combat drills at sea and in the airspace around Taiwan, the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command said, but it did not give the exact locations.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said that as of 5 p.m. Monday, China had deployed 30 warplanes and five military vessels in areas around Taiwan, and 15 of the aircraft had crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

For decades, the median line was observed as an unofficial border between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, but China has been breaching that line over the past two years, which analysts have interpreted as a more aggressive approach to the Taiwan issue.

When asked to comment on China's latest exercises, Taiwan's military spokesman Sun Li-fang (孫立方) said Taiwan's armed forces are fully aware of the PLA's deployments at sea and in the air around Taiwan and will take "appropriate responsive measures."

"The Chinese communist party's daily military provocation only provide us with more training opportunities," he said, but he did not elaborate on Taiwan's possible response.

According to Taiwan's foreign ministry, American Congress members have been visiting Taiwan for decades, although the two sides do not have formal diplomatic relations.

Last year, 14 American lawmakers visited Taiwan, while 19 have visited so far this year, according to MOFA.

The 19-hour visit to Taiwan by Pelosi on Aug. 3 was the first by a sitting U.S. House speaker since 1997.

During Markey's visit this week, he and his delegation, which comprised House members John Garamendi (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Don Beyer (D-VA) and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), met with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and other senior government officials to reiterate Washington's support for Taipei amid escalating cross-Strait tensions.

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