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Apr 26, 4:01 AM EDT

China's Air Force holds training flights around rival Taiwan

BEIJING (AP) -- China's Air Force conducted training flights Thursday around the self-governing island of Taiwan that it said mark an "historical shift" in its combat ability.

A post on the Air Force's official microblog said multiple missions were launched from separate bases featuring aircraft including fighters, early warning planes and the H-6K long-range bomber.

The planes circled Taiwan, transiting the Bashi Strait to the south and Miyako Strait to the north along the sea border with Japan, it said.

Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke was quoted as saying that China's Air Force "has the firm will, complete confidence and sufficient capability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Military threats have grown more prominent in recent weeks through war games and sharply worded statements from China seen as a response to what it perceives as the Taiwanese government's efforts to assert its de facto independent status.

China severed ties with Taiwan almost two years ago, after independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen refused its demand to recognize the island democracy as a part of Chinese territory.

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