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Taiwan says flights through its airspace resuming after Chinese military drills end

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan on Sunday (Aug 7) said flights through its airspace had gradually resumed from about noon as most notifications for Chinese military drills near the island were “no longer in effect”.

The transport ministry said in a statement, however, that Taiwan would continue to direct flights and ships away from a Chinese military drill off its eastern coast until 10 am local time on Monday morning.

Earlier in the day, Chinese and Taiwanese warships played high-seas "cat and mouse" hours before the scheduled end of four days of unprecedented Chinese military exercises launched in reaction to a visit to Taiwan by the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week.

Ms Pelosi's visit infuriated China, which responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over the self-ruled island for the first time and the cutting of communication links with the United States.

China regards Taiwan as a renagade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms and democracy.

On Sunday, some 10 warships each from China and Taiwan sailed at close quarters in the Taiwan Strait, with some Chinese vessels crossing the median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The island’s defence ministry said in a release multiple Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones were simulating attacks on the island and its navy. It said it had sent aircraft and ships to react “appropriately”.

As Chinese forces “pressed” the line, as they did on Saturday, the Taiwan side stayed close to monitor and, where possible, deny the Chinese the ability to cross, the person said. 

"The two sides are showing restraint, the person said, describing the manoeuvres as high seas "cat and mouse".

"One side tries to cross, and the other stands in the way and forces them to a more disadvantaged position and eventually return to the other side."

Taiwan said its shore-based anti-ship missiles and its Patriot surface -to-air-missiles were on stand-by. 

The Chinese exercises, centred on six locations around the island, began on Thursday and were scheduled to last until mid-day on Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency had said last week. 

China's military said on Saturday it was conducting sea and air joint exercises north, south-west and east of Taiwan with a focus on testing land-strike and sea-assault capabilities.

The US called the exercises an escalation.

China says its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter, while Taiwan says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future. 

China has also warned the United States not to “act rashly” and create a greater crisis.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Saturday its forces scrambled jets to warn away 20 Chinese aircraft, including 14 that crossed the median line. It also detected 14 Chinese ships conducting activity around the Taiwan Strait.

The ministry released a photograph showing Taiwanese sailors closely watching a nearby Chinese vessel.

Taiwan’s forces on Friday fired flares to warn away drones flying over its Kinmen islands and unidentified aircraft flying over its Matsu islands. Both island groups are close to China’s coast.

'World faces a choice'

As part of its response to Ms Pelosi's visit, China has halted communication through various channels with the United States including between military theatre commands and on climate change. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of taking "irresponsible" steps and moving away from prioritising peaceful resolution towards the use of force.

Ms Pelosi, a long-time China critic and a political ally of US President Joe Biden, arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday on the highest-level visit to the island by an American official in decades, despite Chinese warnings. She said her visit showed unwavering US commitment to supporting Taiwan's democracy.

"The world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy," she said. She also stressed that her trip was "not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region".

Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong's communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang nationalists in a civil war, prompting their retreat to the island.

Speaking during a visit to the Philippines, Mr Blinken said the US had been hearing concern from allies about what he called China’s dangerous and destabilising actions but Washington sought to avoid escalating the situation.

He said China’s cessation of bilateral dialogue in eight key areas were moves that would punish the world.

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi on Friday accused Mr Blinken of spreading “misinformation”.

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