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China launched military drills around Taiwan over the weekend, shortly after the island’s vice president, William Lai, made two stopovers in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last week, Lai visited Paraguay to reinforce relations with the South American nation – one of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies.

He also visited the US and made stops in New York and San Francisco, where he met with the head of the US’ de facto embassy in Taipei and attended a dinner event with members of the overseas Taiwanese community.

But shortly after Lai’s return to Taiwan on Friday, China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) launched joint sea and air readiness patrols around Taiwan’s main island. PLA officials said the drills would serve as “a stern warning to the secession forces advocating ‘Taiwan independence’ with external powers,” but did not explicitly mention Lai’s visits.

They added that the drills would continue with a focus on practical combat capabilities, but did not specify when they would conclude.

Taiwan condemned the PLA’s maneuvers, saying they “fail to maintain peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait. Its military said Saturday it would dispatch “appropriate force” in response to China’s move.

Lai’s visit and subsequent military drills come ahead of Taiwan’s presidential elections in January, where Lai is considered the front-runner to succeed President Tsai Ing-wen.

Both Lai and Taiwanese officials accused Beijing of using the threat of military force to meddle in those elections.

Although the president and vice president are both members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Lai is seen as more aggressive in asserting Taiwan’s independence.

China considers Taiwan as part of its territory and has promised to take control of the island even by force if necessary.

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