(Bloomberg) -- President Xi Jinping showed off China’s naval might, presiding over the country’s biggest-ever fleet review, while announcing live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait.
Xi, clad in camouflage military fatigues, observed 48 vessels, 76 aircraft and more than 10,000 service personnel at the South China Sea naval hub of Sanya, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, the official Xinhua News Agency said. More than half of the vessels were commissioned in the five years since Xi came to power, Xinhua said.
China has spent the past two decades building a “blue-water’’ navy able to project force into the Indian and Pacific oceans, which surround the country’s growing economic interests in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier last year, the second of as many as six such vessels.
Xi urged the navy to stay on high alert, safeguard national interests and also strengthen the leadership of the Communist Party, according to a statement on the website of the Ministry of National Defense Thursday.
“The task of building a powerful people’s navy has never been as urgent as it is today,” Xi said during the review. “We will unswervingly accelerate the modernization of the navy and strive to build it into a world-class navy.”
Meanwhile, China announced that it would hold a military exercise off its coast opposite Taiwan on April 18, the first such drill disclosed in at least two years. It comes weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a law that would elevate the island’s diplomatic status by allowing high-level official visits.
China on Wednesday warned the U.S. against playing the “Taiwan card,” by using support for the self-ruled island to gain leverage in trade and economic disputes between the world’s two biggest economies. While Taiwan is democratically run and enjoys American military support, China considers it a province and has made acceptance of its “one-China” claim a precondition for diplomatic ties -- including with the U.S.
China and Taiwan two sides still haven’t formerly resolved a civil war that ended more than 60 years ago, and often hold military drills off their own coasts.
Tensions have been steadily rising since Taiwan’s 2016 election, which replaced a China-friendly government with one run by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has infuriated China by refusing to endorse the one-China framework while offering to sign a U.S. free-trade deal and buy more advanced American arms.
Trump’s signing of the Taiwan Travel Act has angered the Chinese further. The law encourages visits between the U.S. and Taiwan “at all levels,” specifically citing “cabinet-level national security officials.” Such exchanges would effectively raise the diplomatic status of the democratically run island, which U.S. officials have avoided since recognizing the government in Beijing under the “one-China” policy in 1979.
Taiwan dismissed China’s scheduled military exercise as “routine,” adding the island can ensure its own safety. Separately, the Ministry of National Defense in Taipei said Wednesday that Tsai would pay a series of military visits to test combat readiness amid changes in global security conditions.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
With assistance from Tian Chen, Adela Lin