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Chinese military flies 18 warplanes near Taiwan during US envoy’s visit

China’s military sent 18 planes including fighter jets over the Taiwan Strait in an unusually large show of force Friday as a U.S. envoy held a day of closed-door meetings on the self-governing island claimed by China.

Under Secretary of State Keith Krach, who handles the economic growth, energy, and the environment portfolio, held talks with Taiwan’s minister of economic affairs and vice-premier. He also met with business leaders over lunch and was to dine with President Tsai Ing-wen later Friday.

In response to Krach’s visit, the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army held combat exercises near the Taiwan Strait, in at least the second round of war games this month aimed at intimidating supporters of the island’s independent identity.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said two bombers and 16 fighter jets from China crossed into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. It said it scrambled jets in response and monitored the movements of the Chinese planes.

Chinese defense ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang called the drills a “legitimate and necessary action taken in response to the current situation across the Taiwan Straits to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“Recently, the U.S. and (Taiwan’s ruling) Democratic Progressive Party authorities have stepped up their collusion and frequently stir up troubles,” Ren told reporters Friday morning. “Whether it is using Taiwan to contain China or relying on foreign powers to threaten others, it is wishful thinking and is destined to be a dead end.”

In a brief message on its microblog, the Eastern Theater Command said the exercises involved naval and air force units in the Taiwan Strait aimed at gauging their ability to carry out joint operations.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also defended the move. Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China has the “firm will, full confidence and sufficient ability to thwart all external interference and separatist actions by Taiwan independence forces.”

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