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In New Year’s speech, Taiwan president warns China against ‘military adventurism’

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen had a New Year message for China on Saturday: military conflict is not the answer, but Beijing responded with a stern warning that if Taiwan crossed any red line it would lead to “profound catastrophe”.

China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has increased military and diplomatic pressure in the past two years to assert its sovereignty claims.

“We must remind the Beijing authorities to not misjudge the situation and to prevent the internal expansion of ‘military adventurism’,” Tsai said on Saturday in her New Year's speech, broadcast live on Facebook.

Taiwan says it is an independent country and has repeatedly vowed to defend its freedom and democracy.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his New Year address on Friday that the complete unification of “the motherland” was an aspiration shared by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

On Saturday, after Tsai's speech, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, said: “We are willing to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification.”

“But if 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces continue to provoke and coerce, or even cross any red line, we will have to take decisive measures.”

The pursuit of independence will only throw Taiwan into a “deep chasm” and bring about “profound catastrophe”, Zhu added.

In recent months, Beijing has sent repeated air missions over the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan has said it will not give in to threats.

“The military is definitely not an option for solving cross-strait disagreements. Military conflicts would impact economic stability,” Tsai said.

To ease tension in the region, both Taipei and Beijing must “work hard to take care of people's livelihoods and calm the hearts of the people” in order to find peaceful solutions to problems together, she said.

Tsai also said Taiwan would continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong, adding that interference in the recent legislative election and the arrests this week of senior staff at the pro-democracy media outlet Stand News “made people worry even more about human rights and freedom of speech in Hong Kong”.

“We will hold fast to our sovereignty, uphold the values of freedom and democracy, defend territorial sovereignty and national security, and maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” Tsai said.

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US combat jet crashes in South China Sea exercise, 7 hurt

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A US Navy F35C Lightning II combat jet conducting exercises in the South China Sea crashed while trying to land on the deck of an American aircraft carrier, injuring seven sailors, the military said Tuesday.

The pilot was able to eject before the aircraft slammed into the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson on Monday and then fell into the water. The pilot was safely recovered by a helicopter, said Lt. Mark Langford, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet.

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Seven sailors, including the pilot, were injured and three were evacuated for medical treatment in Manila, Philippines, while four were treated on board the ship. The three sent to Manila were reported in stable condition on Tuesday morning, the Navy said.

Details on the crash of the multimillion-dollar aircraft were still being verified, Langford said.

“The status and recovery of the aircraft is currently under investigation,” he told The Associated Press.

Two American carrier strike groups with more than 14,000 sailors and marines are conducting exercises in the South China Sea, which the military says is to demonstrate the “US Indo-Pacific Command Joint Force’s ability to deliver a powerful maritime force.”

Impact to the deck of the USS Carl Vinson was “superficial,” Langford said, and both carriers have resumed routine flight operations.

As China has pressed territorial claims in the South China Sea and increased pressure on Taiwan, the US and its allies have stepped up exercises in the region, in what they call freedom of navigation operations in line with international law.

As the Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln strike groups began their dual carrier operations on Sunday, China flew 39 warplanes toward Taiwan in its largest such sortie of the new year, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry.

The formation of 24 Chinese J-16 and 10 J-10 fighter jets stayed out of Taiwanese air space, but the maneuver prompted Taiwan to scramble its own aircraft in response.

Chinese pilots have been flying toward Taiwan on a near-daily basis, and it was unclear if Sunday’s flights were a response to the American exercises. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to comment.

Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory. Beijing has used diplomatic and military means to isolate and intimidate the self-ruled island, but the US has continued to support Taiwan by selling it advanced weapons and fighter planes.

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Snowstorms, cold and fire threaten displaced Syrians in northern camps

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Five-year-old Intissar and her younger sister Lin were sheltering from northern Syria’s bitter winter cold when fuel from a heater ignited their tent, killing them and seriously injuring their mother.

The young family and other displaced Syrians were living near the Turkish border in a camp of more than 400 tents, which offer little protection from snowstorms and plunging temperatures which struck in recent days.

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The cold snap has brought chaos to traffic and flights in neighboring countries but its effects are most severe in northwest Syria, where 3 million people have been left homeless in a long-running humanitarian crisis.

Many have been displaced several times by the 11-year war.

“People in the camp are suffering. The tents don’t protect from the cold,” said Nouredin al-Abdullah, whose cousin Ahmed is the father of the girls who died. “If you think about heating, God forbid, you and your children may go (the same way).”

He said the latest snowfall was the heaviest he had seen.

The weight of the snow has collapsed many tents, while water seeped underneath them.

Across the region, food supplies and health services have been disrupted and relief workers are struggling to reach some of the 300 worst affected sites, said Mark Cutts, U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria.

“The numbers are just staggering, and it is very difficult to provide people with all the support they need,” he said. Desperate to stay warm, people were burning cardboard and plastic bottles, and then inhaling toxic fumes.

“Even more suffering is caused because of the lack of fuel for heating,” he told Reuters, adding that at least one child had died from the freezing cold.

“There are more than 1 million people still living in tents or substandard accommodation,” Cutts said. “It’s becoming increasingly urgent that we get people out of these tents.”

Read more: Syrian prison battle death toll tops 150, concern over fate of minors

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Gunmen kill Pakistani policeman guarding polio workers

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Gunmen shot and killed a Pakistani policeman who was providing security for polio vaccination workers in the northwest on Tuesday, according to police.

The assailants fled the scene, and no one claimed responsibility for the attack in Kohat, local police official Dikdar Khan said. He added that the body of the slain policeman had been transported to a hospital.

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No polio workers were harmed in the attack, police said, a day after Pakistan launched a nationwide anti-polio campaign.

Militants in Pakistan often target polio teams and police assigned to protect them, falsely claiming the vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children. Militants have claimed responsibility for previous attacks across the country.

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