Taiwan hits back against Chinese airlines in Lunar New Year season

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Some 50,000 passengers are expected to be affected by the cancellation of flights between China and Taiwan in the Lunar New Year period amid escalating tensions between the two governments.

"At this time, they said themselves they don't want to apply".

Surveillance planes monitored the routes of mock incoming navy ships, tanks fired rounds at pretend enemy forces landing on Taiwan's shores, and military helicopters and F-16 fighter aircraft unleashed rounds on the simulated hostile forces, Channel News Asia reported Tuesday.

Speaking at a regular news briefing, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said there was at least 23 km (14 miles) separating the routes.

The flights are a newest sticking point between China and Taiwan, which Beijing considers a province to be reunited with the mainland.

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In response to China's use of the M503 northward and three feeder flight routes starting from early January, which compromises aviation security over the Taiwan Strait and near Taiwan's outlying islands, Kinmen and Matsu, Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) on January 19 suspended permits for 167 extra cross-strait flights operated by two Chinese airlines scheduled for the holidays in mid-February.

The airlines said in separate statements they had no choice but to cancel the trips after what they said was a refusal by Taiwanese authorities to approve the flights.

Taipei has objected to China's use of an air route, designated M503, which is only 5 miles from the central line of the Taiwan Strait, dividing the island from the mainland.

Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) said it could arrange military aircraft in Kinmen for Taiwanese people who wished to return to Taiwan from China during the Lunar New Year after the mass cancellation of cross-strait flights. The route runs close to restricted airspace on Taiwan's side of the Strait.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) last month warned against what she called Beijing's "military expansion" - the increase in Chinese air and naval drills around Taiwan since she came to power in May 2016. "All along we said we hope that the situation can meet the needs of travellers and that we can all discuss an appropriate arrangement for the added flights", Ho said. "It's not at all that we said we didn't agree for them to apply", Ho added.

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