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 they would give refunds to almost 25,000 passengers who'd already booked flights.
The airline association said Taiwan is using the M503 route "as an excuse".
While not specifying that the drill simulated an invasion by mainland China, the authorities said the exercise was to "show determination to safeguard peace in the Taiwan Strait and national security".
The Taiwan Strait is the waterway that separates the island from China.
China considers Taiwan a wayward province, and relations have cooled since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office as Taiwan's president in 2016. Adding more flights over Chinese New Year has been a practice for years to facilitate Taiwanese returning home for the holidays.
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Xinhua News Agency is not pleased, and devoted the majority of its Taiwan coverage today to complaining about the cancelled flights: in English, and in Chinese (1, 2, 3, 4).
China Eastern apologised to its customers and said it will offer refunds and rebookings for the 40,000 passengers on the 106 cancelled flights.
A row between China and Taiwan has flared up over air navigation, leading to the cancellation of 176 flights between the two.
Taiwanese who want to be home for the holidays will probably have to find other options.
The Global Times, a news outlet frequently used to informally express Beijing's views, echoed Li's sentiments: "The Chinese mainland has never given up the option of Taiwan mainland reunification by force, which is clear to people across the Taiwan Strait", a December editorial reads.
Alternatively they could choose a Chinese airline or Taiwanese airline that had not been using the new routes, though tickets would be hard to come by, our correspondent added.