South China Sea: Taiwan unveils new ‘combat’ ship in warning to Beijing as tensions rise

Taiwan unveils new amphibious assault and transport ship

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The $162 million vessel is equipped with anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons. It will be used for missions to Taipei-controlled islets in the South China Sea. CSBC chairman Cheng Wen-lon said the new equipment is expected to go into service next year.

At the ceremony, he said: “In peacetime, the ship will be used to transport personnel and supplies to [Taiwan-controlled] offshore islands, and during natural disasters, it can serve as a hospital ship for humanitarian assistance as well as disaster relief missions.

“In wartime, it can serve as an amphibious vessel for combat operations.”

It comes as China described its military exercises near Taiwan as “combat drills” on Wednesday, upping the ante as senior former US officials arrived in Taipei on a trip to signal President Joe Biden’s commitment to Taiwan and its democracy.

Taiwan has complained over the proximity of repeated Chinese military activity, including fighter jets and bombers entering its air defence zone and a Chinese aircraft carrier exercising off the island, which is claimed by Beijing.

Twenty-five Chinese air force aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Monday, the largest reported incursion by Taipei to date.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Taiwan’s government and separatists were colluding with “external forces”.

“The People’s Liberation Army’s organising of actual combat exercises in the Taiwan Strait is a necessary action to address the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty,” spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said.

“It is a solemn response to external forces’ interference and provocations by Taiwan independence” forces, he added.

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“The PLA’s military exercises and training operations are sending a signal that our determination to curb Taiwan independence and Taiwan-U.S. collusion is not just talk.”

China has previously offered little public comment on its recent military movements near Taiwan.

Its defence ministry referred to them only as “military activities” in late January.

The United States, which like most countries only officially recognises China’s government and not Taiwan’s, is however Taipei’s strongest international backer and has watched tensions mount with growing alarm.

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Former US Senator Chris Dodd and former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday in an unmarked private jet, in what a White House official called a “personal signal” of the president’s commitment to Taiwan and its democracy.

They are due to meet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday, in a trip that is further straining Sino-US relations.

Taiwan presidential office spokesman Xavier Chang said the trip “again shows the Taiwan-US relationship is rock solid, and is a full expression of cross-party support for Taiwan in the United States”.

Tsai has repeatedly said Taiwan is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.

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