[BEIJING] China's military has staged at least three landing exercises in the country's southeast this month, state-run media reported Wednesday ahead of the inauguration of Taiwan's Beijing-sceptic president-elect Tsai Ing-wen.
The operations appear to be Beijing's latest warnings to Ms Tsai, chairwoman of the traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, who will be sworn in on Friday and whose political message revolves around the importance of Taiwanese identity.
China and Taiwan split in 1949 after the Kuomintang nationalist forces lost a civil war to the Communists. But Beijing has always seen the island as a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The largest and most recent of the drills was carried out by a regiment under the 31st Group Army, based in Fujian province opposite Taiwan, reported China Daily, the military's official mouthpiece.
Footage posted on the website of state broadcaster CCTV late Tuesday showed squadrons of attack helicopters bombarded ground targets with missiles and rockets, and landing craft charging towards a beach.
Troops fired grappling hooks to climb up cliffs, heavily camouflaged soldiers used sniper rifles, and tanks rolled through fields.
The live-fire exercises were intended to "demonstrate and test the joint landing operation capability of a basic combat unit", the Daily said, citing Lieutenant Colonel Chen Xiaoming, commander of the regiment.
The report, headlined "iron fist strikes on targets like splitting bamboo", said the drill involved several different PLA service arms and featured information warfare.
The China Daily cited an unnamed Chinese military expert as saying: "The rapid development and modernisation of the PLA now allow us to fulfil a landing operation using only a couple of hours and with few casualties," referring the the People's Liberation Army.
At least two other landing exercises have been mounted this month, one in the southern province of Guangdong and another by the navy's South Sea Fleet using Zubr-class hovercraft, the report added.
Beijing has been sending assertive messages across the Taiwan Strait since Ms Tsai was elected in January.
It has warned against any attempt to formally declare independence and the Taiwan Affairs Office recently said responsibility for any cross-strait crisis "must be shouldered by those who change the status quo", a thinly veiled threat to Ms Tsai not to rock the boat.
China's defence ministry denied Wednesday that the military exercises were aimed at any particular entity, adding they should not be over-interpreted.
"It is routine arrangement to execute military drills in the southeast of China according to annual training plan, and these drills are not aimed at any specific target," it said on its website.