China to ban ships from area near Taiwan due to 'falling rocket wreckage'

Matthew Walsh - Agence France-Presse
China to ban ships from area near Taiwan due to 'falling rocket wreckage'
A man sets up a Chinese flag on his car as he prepares to look at the view of the Taiwan Strait, towards the zone where China said it would conduct live fire exercises northeast of Pingtan island, the closest point in China to Taiwan, in China’s southeast Fujian province on April 10, 2023.
AFP / Greg Baker

BEIJING, China — China will ban ships from entering an area north of Taiwan on Sunday due to "possible falling rocket wreckage", a provincial maritime authority said, days after Beijing conducted large-scale military drills around the self-ruled island.

The area around 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, will be closed from 9:00 am (0100 GMT) to 3:00 pm (0700 GMT), the maritime safety administration of China's eastern Fujian province said Thursday.

It added that vessels would be "forbidden to enter" for the duration of the shutdown.

The announcement came after Taiwan's transport ministry said Wednesday that Beijing planned to impose a no-fly zone north of the island due to "space activities".

The air restrictions would be in force from 9:30 am to 9:57 am (0130 to 0157 GMT) on Sunday, the ministry said, adding that the zone lies "on the convergence areas of many international routes".

China had initially planned a three-day shutdown but had relented following objections from Taiwanese authorities, according to the ministry.

Beijing's foreign ministry declined to confirm on Thursday whether the no-fly zone would be imposed, with spokesperson Wang Wenbin telling reporters at a regular briefing to refer to "the competent authorities".

It is unclear what link, if any, exists between the restricted zone and Beijing's recent war games.

Taiwanese authorities did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

War games

Beijing on Monday announced the end of three days of military drills around Taiwan, the island democracy it views as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize -- by force if necessary.

The "Joint Sword" manoeuvres came in response to Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen's visit last week to the United States, where she met a bipartisan group of lawmakers including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) said it simulated targeted strikes on Taiwan and an encirclement that would have effectively "sealed off" the island.

The operations "comprehensively tested the integrated joint combat ability of multiple military branches under actual combat conditions", the PLA's Eastern Command said.

They were also expected to include live-fire drills in a closed-off area near the coast of Fujian -- about 80 kilometres south of the Taiwan-administered Matsu islands -- but it is not clear whether those drills actually took place.

'Actual combat' 

The United States -- Taiwan's main security ally -- repeatedly called for Beijing to show restraint in response to Tsai's visit.

Washington later sent a guided-missile destroyer through contested parts of the South China Sea under what it called a "freedom of navigation operation".

On Wednesday, Chinese state media said President Xi Jinping had called on the country's armed forces to "strengthen military training oriented towards actual combat" during a naval inspection trip the day before.

Separately, Beijing warned that Taiwanese independence and cross-strait peace were "mutually exclusive", blaming Taipei and unnamed "foreign forces" supporting it for the tensions.

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