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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Navy Launches Taiwan War Games

BEIJING -- China started live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday and warned the United States not to interfere as one of the largest U.S. armadas since the Vietnam War gathered in the region.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry said the war games began around noon, but had not stretched outside an area designated by China in waters separating the two sides.

The Defense Ministry said about 10 ships of various types were seen conducting formation drills, and about 10 warplanes were practicing air cover, surveillance and bombing runs near Dongshan and Nan Ao, on China's southeastern coast, The Associated Press reported.

Taiwan has put its 400,000-strong military on heightened alert, and the United States is moving warships and aircraft carriers closer to Taiwan. China claimed Tuesday that Washington was conniving with Taiwanese separatists, according to Associated Press reports.

Visiting his troops on the islands of Quemoy and the Pescadores in the Taiwan Straits, which separate the rivals, Taiwanese Chief of Staff General Lo Pen-li delivered a tough pep talk.

"We will by no means provoke any warfare, but if we are provoked and attacked, we must relentlessly destroy our enemy. We will by no means be softhearted or weak-handed,'' Lo told troops in Quemoy, according to AP.

China has said it will fire live ammunition, but the Taiwanese statement did not confirm it was being used.

The exercises, along with missile tests near vital Taiwanese ports that began last Friday, are designed to cow Taiwan into dropping a campaign to break out of diplomatic isolation, a move Beijing regards as a drive toward independence. message to Taipei that it supported moves toward independence.

"If that message were relayed to Taiwan, it would create real danger," he said Tuesday.

Taiwan itself remained calm but was steeling itself for the worst. Soldiers dug trenches on a frontline island and hundreds of nervous people prepared to flee Taipei. Travel agents reported a doubling in the number of people wanting to leave the country. At the Foreign Ministry, hundreds of people queued to renew or apply for passports.

"I want to leave [Taiwan] ... I am afraid they [Chinese] really will attack," said Chen Wen-chun, 28, a middle-school teacher at the Foreign Ministry.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord said Monday night that the U.S. naval buildup was meant to "reassure our friends in the area that we have a big stake in the stability and peace of that region."

"So it is there to make sure this current dangerous situation does not escalate further," Lord said.

More than half of Taiwanese residents believe the United States would help the island if it were attacked by China, a public opinion poll conducted by the China Times Express said.

Beijing residents, meanwhile, said the United States should mind its own business and stay out of China's dispute with Taiwan, but were divided over whether to invade the island.

Most stock markets in the booming Asia-Pacific region that suffered sharp losses Monday recovered their nerve Tuesday, assisted by a bold recovery in U.S. financial markets.

Following on the heels of Wall Street's recovery of nearly 111 points, the Hong Kong's Heng Seng Index gained 1.97 percent recovering a fraction of Monday's 820 point drop -- the largest since the 1987 crash. In Beijing, a leading expert on policy toward Taiwan said China had shifted the focus of its policy away from peaceful reunification and toward force to forestall ambitions the island may have of cutting historic ties with the motherland.

The target of China's tough tactics is Taiwan's first direct presidential election March 23, expected to be won by President Lee Teng-hui. China fears the election could push Taiwan closer to independence.

Lee does not advocate independence but has likened himself to Moses, the prophet who led Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in the 13th century B.C.

Not all Taiwanese were unnerved by the crisis.

Shih Ming-teh, chairman of Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, took a defiant boat ride into an area where China is testing missiles, and vowed that Taiwanese will never succumb to Chinese threats.

Wang Chun, 68, a veteran of the Chinese civil war who now lives in the Pescadores, one of the closest points to the latest exercises, said he was not afraid.

"There are a lot of seagulls around here and I stand a better chance of being hit by one of their missiles than one fired by the Chinese," Wang said.