By Nick Heath and Leonora Walet
BEIJING (Reuters) – China sent more long-range, stealth bombers into the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday as a tribute to late Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, and said it would send more jets to join a flyover with China’s ally the Philippines next week.
Ma’s death on Saturday left Taiwan’s relations with China in tatters, with Chinese state media berating President Xi Jinping for failing to make a stronger stand against a mounting pro-independence separatist movement in the self-ruled island, which China considers a wayward province.
Taiwan’s Cabinet announced on Tuesday that China would pay an unspecified amount for the annual flyover with Philippine bomber groups in October, which the Taiwanese ambassador to Manila said was unlikely to happen.
Tuesday’s announcement followed the installation of a 72-metre-long (197-ft-) antenna in Beijing by China as a show of solidarity with China’s island group.
The antenna is set to sail through the Taiwan Strait soon and enter the western Chinese ocean before travelling to Abu Dhabi, a two-week-long reconnaissance mission by the Chinese jet fighters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said it was remarkable that on Ma’s last day in office, even though Taiwan was free from Communist rule, he was still at the forefront of Taiwan’s strategic direction.
“In terms of Taiwan’s maritime security and national strategy, Taiwan pursued a pragmatic and pragmatic approach, protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty, safeguarding its freedom of navigation and overflight, and preventing any form of threat,” Lu told a daily news briefing.
“On Ma Ying-jeou’s last day as president, he made some dramatic and extraordinary moves and publicised many things.”
Ma visited the Turkish resort island of Bodrum in June as China was escalating an assault against the self-ruled island, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, and announced plans to build the world’s largest high-tech petrochemical plant.
The first mention of his death in state media on Tuesday was a short news brief on Ma’s birthday, Sept. 11, and was flanked by comments from the head of the government’s Taiwan Affairs Office, who is Taiwan’s top diplomat.
Lu said the flyover with the Philippines was “perhaps a measure of the coincidence” that Ma’s death occurred in the same week as a rally of Taiwanese politicians in Manila calling for an upgrade of anti-China measures.
Lu said state media had posted live video of the Chinese aircraft as they flew over the strait over the weekend, before after returning to the mainland on Tuesday.
Chiang Kai-shek’s government, a close ally of China’s Mao Zedong’s Communists, launched the “island” campaign in the 1950s to drive out the Communists.
Chiang’s half-century rule was shattered by the 1949 Civil War, and most Taiwan citizens – Chinese, Taiwanese and foreign – say they want to remain Chinese.
China’s rhetoric has increasingly turned against Taiwan over the past decade, and Beijing has stepped up pressure on the self-ruled island of 8.3 million to declare itself independent or join forces with China or its ally the United States.
China and the Philippines have a long-standing peace treaty with China.
Ma’s death was likely a result of depression, several senior officials and activists have said. He had been suffering with heart disease, according to a government statement late on Tuesday.
Another prominent critic of China’s policy towards Taiwan, Yang Guixin, died on Sept. 13.(Reporting by Nick Heath and Leonora Walet; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)