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The newly built aircraft carriers Liaoning and Shandong will be the leading element of a naval exercise in the Taiwan Strait. The centre of the scheduled simulated combat scenario will be the disputed Pratas Islands. Taiwan reacted to the move and stated its intention to act defensively amid reports that China is building up forces and plans to conduct war games simulating the seizure of the Pratas Islands.
Major-General Lin Wen-huang said Taiwan’s military was monitoring “hostile forces” in the South China Sea and had prepared measures to protect the strategic and disputed Pratas islands.
The Pratas Islands consist of one island, two coral reefs, and two banks, and are located about 170 nautical miles southeast of Hong Kong.
Taiwan controls them and has declared they are part of the Dongsha Atoll National Park.
But, The People’s Republic of China also claims them as part of Guangdong Province.
There has been a further escalation of tension after reports that the Chinese army is planning a large-scale beach landing exercise near Hainan province in the summer, simulating the takeover of the Pratas Islands.
This is not the first time that China has tested its naval strength in the Taiwan strait.
In 2018 China carried out live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait.
That exercise was intended to show the growing strength of its navy and deliver a message to self-governed Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.
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The wargame plans have been announced amid a deterioration of relations between Beijing and Washington.
The Trump administration has increasingly blamed China for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
China has responded by accusing Washington of engaging in propaganda.
Last week during a meeting of the Chinese politburo in Beijing, Chinese foreign minister Wang Li said: “It has come to our attention that some political forces in the US are taking China-US relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War.”
The Council on Foreign Relations, a political think tank, predicts military conflict between the US and China in the South China Sea is a high possibility in the next 18 months if, “their relationship continues to deteriorate as a result of ongoing trade frictions and recriminations over the novel coronavirus pandemic.”
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