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China holds fresh military drills around Taiwan

BEIJING - China carried out fresh military drills around Taiwan Monday, Beijing said, defying calls to end its largest-ever exercises encircling the island in the wake of a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Beijing has raged at the trip by Pelosi -- the highest-ranking elected US official to visit Taiwan in decades -- ripping up a series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington, most notably on climate change and defense.

It has also deployed fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles in what analysts have described as practice for a blockade and ultimate invasion of the self-ruled democratic island that China claims as its territory.

Those drills had been expected to draw to a close on Sunday, but China said Monday they were still ongoing.

"The eastern theatre of the Chinese People's Liberation Army continued to carry out practical joint exercises and training in the sea and airspace around Taiwan island," the military said.

The exercises, the PLA's Eastern Command added, were "focusing on organizing joint anti-submarine and sea assault operations".

Taipei condemned Beijing for extending the drills.

"China's provocation and aggression have harmed the status quo of the Taiwan Strait and raised tensions in the region," the island's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Taiwanese military said it detected 39 Chinese warplanes and 13 ships operating in the strait on Monday.

Of those, 21 aircraft crossed the median line -- an unofficial demarcation between China and Taiwan that the former does not recognize.

US President Joe Biden expressed concern Monday but said he did not expect the situation to escalate further.

"I'm not worried, but I'm concerned they're moving as much as they are. But I don't think they're going to do anything more than they are," Biden told reporters at Dover Air Force Base.

Taipei defiant

Taiwan has remained defiant throughout the Chinese drills.

Its military said it would hold anti-landing exercises in Taiwan's south on Tuesday and Thursday.

"We will practice counter moves against simulated enemy attacks on Taiwan," Lou Woei-jye, spokesman for the Eighth Army Corps, told AFP.

They will include the deployment of hundreds of troops and about 40 howitzer guns, the military said.

Taiwan has insisted that no Chinese warplanes or ships have entered Taiwan's territorial waters -- within 12 nautical miles of land -- during Beijing's drills.

But to show how close it came to Taiwan's shores, the Chinese military released a video of an air force pilot filming the island's coastline and mountains from his cockpit.

The Eastern Command also shared a photo it said was of a warship on patrol with Taiwan's shoreline visible in the background.

Ballistic missiles were fired over Taiwan's capital during the exercises last week, according to Chinese state media.

The scale and intensity of China's drills -- as well as its withdrawal from key talks on climate and defence -- have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies.

'Issuing a warning'

Beijing on Monday defended its behavior as "firm, forceful and appropriate" to American provocation.

"(We) are only issuing a warning to the perpetrators," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing, promising China would "firmly smash the Taiwan authorities' illusion of gaining independence through the US".

"We urge the US to do some earnest reflection, and immediately correct its mistakes."

Experts say the drills have revealed an increasingly emboldened Chinese military capable of carrying out a grueling blockade of the island and obstructing US forces from coming to Taiwan's aid.

"In some areas, the PLA might even surpass US capabilities," Grant Newsham, a researcher at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies and a former US Navy officer, told AFP.

"If the battle is confined to the area right around Taiwan, today's Chinese navy is a dangerous opponent -- and if the Americans and Japanese do not intervene for some reason, things would be difficult for Taiwan." -- Agence France-Presse