Taiwan leader says island secure ahead of China drills

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (Sam Yeh/AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Taiwan leader says island secure ahead of China drills

  • Chinese officials have suggested Wednesday’s military exercise is a warning to pro-independence advocates in Taiwan
  • Although a fully fledged democracy, Taiwan has never formally announced independence from the mainland and Beijing has warned of military action if it ever did

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen reassured residents that the island was secure Tuesday, a day before China is set to hold live-fire drills in the narrow strait that separates the two.
Tsai spoke to reporters as she left for Swaziland, one of Taiwan’s few remaining international allies that has not been wooed away by an ascendant Beijing as cross-strait relations deteriorate.
Chinese officials have suggested Wednesday’s military exercise is a warning to pro-independence advocates in Taiwan as Beijing steps up its rhetoric against any challenges to its sovereignty.
China sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory to be brought back into the fold and has not ruled out reunification by force.
Tsai said Monday she had told national security officials to closely monitor the “surrounding situation.”
“Please rest assured that we have the confidence and determination to safeguard the country’s security,” she said at Taoyuan International Airport.
Tsai added that maintaining a peaceful “status quo” across the strait was her government’s mission.
Although a fully fledged democracy, Taiwan has never formally announced independence from the mainland and Beijing has warned of military action if it ever did.
Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is traditionally pro-independence and her newly appointed premier William Lai is a long-standing independence advocate.
When asked if the upcoming military exercise was directed at Lai, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office director Liu Jieyi said on Monday it was “an action to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our motherland.”
Beijing has stepped up military patrols around the island and used diplomatic pressure to isolate Taiwan internationally since Tsai took office in May 2016, as she refuses to accept both sides are part of “one China.”
China has chipped away at Taiwan’s dwindling number of allies, with Swaziland one of the few not to have been convinced to give up official recognition of the island as a country.
On her four-day trip to Africa, Tsai will take part in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence and the establishment of diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Observers say Wednesday’s planned drills also serve as a signal to Washington, which sent aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt through the disputed South China Sea last week.
The region has become a potential flashpoint, with the United States saying China’s aggressive activities in the area pose a threat to freedom of navigation.
Washington is also Taiwan’s most powerful — thought unofficial — ally and its biggest arms supplier.
Relations have warmed between Washington and Taipei in recent months, including the passage of a bill last month that promotes visits by officials at all levels.


Britain identifies Russians suspected of Skripal nerve attack — report

Updated 8 min 13 sec ago
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Britain identifies Russians suspected of Skripal nerve attack — report

LONDON: British police have identified several Russians who they believe were behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the Press Association reported on Thursday, citing a source close to the investigation.
Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, and his daughter Yulia, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4.
Britain blamed Russia for the poisonings and identified the poison as Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.
After analyzing closed-circuit television, police think several Russians were involved in the attack on the Skripals, who spent weeks in hospital before being spirited to a secret location, Press Association reported.
“Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack,” the unidentified source close to the investigation said, according to PA.
“They (the investigators) are sure they (the suspects) are Russian,” said the source, adding security camera images had been cross checked with records of people who entered the country.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the report.
After the attack on the Skripals, allies in Europe and the US sided with Britain’s view of the attack and ordered the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.
Russia retaliated by expelling Western diplomats. Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement and accused the British intelligence agencies of staging the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.
Mystery surrounds the attack.
The motive for attacking Skripal, an aged Russian traitor who was exchanged in a Kremlin-approved spy swap in 2010, is still unclear, as is the motive for using of an exotic nerve agent which has such overt links to Russia’s Soviet past.
Novichok put the Skripals into a coma, though after weeks in intensive care they were spirited to a secret location for their safety.
“My life has been turned upside down,” Yulia Skripal told Reuters in May. “Our recovery has been slow and extremely painful.”
A British woman, Dawn Sturgess, died this month after coming across a small bottle containing Novichok near the city of Salisbury where the Skripals were struck down. Her partner, Charlie Rowley, is still in hospital.
A British police officer was also injured by Novichok while attending to the Skripals in March.