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PLA begins E.China Sea drill

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The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) began military exercises on Friday in waters near East China's Shandong Province, which coincided with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen's plan to fly to Paraguay on Sunday with stopovers in the US and attracted attentions on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.

Experts said that the military exercises are aimed at practicing combat capability in the event it has to deal with Taiwan separatists.

China Maritime Safety Administration released a notice on its website on early Friday, saying that the PLA would conduct significant military exercises from Friday to Monday in waters of the Yellow Sea and all boats and ships are banned from entering restricted areas for safety reasons.

The exercises began at 6:00 pm on Friday and will end at 6:00 am on Monday. The restricted zone extends from the northeast maritime areas of Rizhao to the southeast maritime areas of Qiangdao in Shandong, according to pictures released from the China Maritime Safety Administration on Friday.

Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Friday that the exercises may aim to increase the combat capability of the PLA Navy Beihai Fleet and other troops stationed nearby.

"Previous exercises in the East China Sea aimed at dealing with Taiwan separatists and the purpose has not changed for exercises taking place in the Yellow Sea," Song said.

The PLA conducted a live-fire military drill in the East China Sea in July in an area similar in size to the island of Taiwan, a move analysts believe would send a strong warning to Taiwan separatists.

The six-day exercise started on July 18 and ended on July 23. Vessels were prohibited from entering the designated live-fire drill area to ensure safety, read a notice released by Zhejiang Maritime Safety Administration on July 16.

The PLA is also likely to practice how to deal with possible interference from Japan and the US, if the Chinese mainland is forced to deal with the Taiwan question, Song said.

The news on Friday's military exercises has troubled Taiwan authorities as Tsai is reportedly preparing stopovers in two US cities on her way to and from Latin America beginning on Sunday.

Tsai will pass through Los Angeles on her way to Paraguay and through Houston on her return journey from Belize in Central America, the Taiwan-based EBC News reported on Wednesday.

Only 18 countries around the world has "diplomatic ties" with Taiwan. Ten of them are South and Central American countries.

Yang Lixian, a specially appointed research fellow at the Beijing-based Research Center on Cross-Straits Relations, said that "Tsai's plane needs to refuel in the US as she hurries to rescue and strengthen ties with countries in South and Central America, which are among a dwindling number of countries that are 'friends of Taiwan.'"

Tsai may use her short stay in the US to meet with some US officials and pro-Taiwan independence politicians, which the Chinese mainland firmly opposes, Yang told the Global Times.

Geng Shuang, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry told a press briefing on July 31 that "we urge the US to respect the 'one-China policy' and not give permission for Tsai to stopover in the US."

"The US should not send a wrong signal to Taiwan and should take real action to protect China-US ties and the stability of the area," said Geng.

In response to the PLA's military exercises on Friday, Huang Chung-yen, spokesperson from the Taiwan authorities was quoted by EBC News on Friday as saying that Taiwan's military has "closely followed" the PLA's activities and made countermeasures.

Experts said on Friday that the Chinese mainland opposes any activity that would jeopardize the cross-Straits tie and the PLA's exercises always aim at protecting the country's interests.

Yang said that conducting military exercises has become routine training of the PLA and the purpose of the exercises is quite clear - to fight any separatist forces, to protect the country's integrity and sovereignty and safeguard its unification.

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