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China holds military drills in Taiwan Strait amid tensions with US

This Oct. 1, 2019 photo shows China's JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles on display during a military parade in Beijing marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist People's Republic of China. (Kyodo)

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- China said Thursday that it has carried out military drills involving several units in and around the Taiwan Strait, in an apparent response to the recent visit by a U.S. high-ranking official to the self-governed island.

    "A certain major power" has sent "seriously wrong signals to 'Taiwan independence' forces," a spokesman for the People's Liberation Army said in a statement, adding the drills are "necessary" to tackle the current security situation and safeguard China's sovereignty.

    The statement came days after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan, marking the highest-level trip by an American Cabinet official since 1979, the year Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

    Taiwan and mainland China have been separately governed since they split amid a civil war in 1949. Their relationship has deteriorated under independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen, who has served as Taiwan's president since 2016.

    In Taiwan, fears linger that the communist-led Chinese government, headed by President Xi Jinping, will try to achieve its cherished goal of reuniting the democratically-ruled island with the mainland, by force if needed, foreign affairs experts say.

    Sino-U.S. tensions have also been intensifying over the Taiwan issue, as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has been forging close relations with the island.

    Azar made a four-day visit to Taiwan through Wednesday, where he held talks with Tsai. Beijing expressed "firm opposition" to his trip to the island.

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