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Taiwan says on high alert after recent Chinese air force drills

[TAIPEI] Taiwan's military is on a high state of alert following three straight days of drills by the Chinese air force near to the self-ruled island which Beijing claims as its own, Taiwan's defence ministry said on Tuesday.

The Chinese aircraft, which have included bombers and advanced fighter jets, have been staging exercises flying through the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines and up to the north of Taiwan by Japan's Miyako island, according to Taiwan's government.

Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-Ji said Chinese aircraft had at times entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone during their drills.

"Our air force and navy will stay on high alert to prevent them from intruding upon our territorial waters or airspace or even engaging in hostility," Mr Chen said.

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"We're experienced and have been doing this for a long time, and we ask our citizens to rest assured," he added.

"We will of course take actions to avoid escalating any conflict throughout this process."

China has yet to comment on the exercises, though it has in the past described them as routine.

The drills are the latest in a series of such exercises conducted by China near Taiwan and Japan in the past several weeks.

China has been increasingly asserting itself in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. It is also worried about Taiwan, run by a government China fears is intent on independence.

Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring proudly democratic Taiwan under its control, and has warned that any moves towards formal independence could prompt an armed response.

China is in the midst of an ambitious military modernisation programme that includes building aircraft carriers and developing stealth fighters to give it the ability to project power far from its shores.

Taiwan is well armed with mostly US weaponry, but has been pressing Washington to sell it more high-tech equipment to better deter China.