China began three days of military exercises around Taiwan after the island’s president met with the US House speaker, defying repeated threats by Beijing.
Dubbed the “United Sharp Sword”, Taiwan has condemned the practice. China regards Taiwan as its territory and has not ruled out using force to bring it under its control.
The Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command announced the exercise on Saturday, saying it was a “serious warning against Taiwan’s collusion with separatist forces and external forces and action necessary to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“The task force simultaneously conducted patrols around the island to establish an all-round encirclement and containment position,” the Eastern Theater Command said.
Shortly after China’s announcement, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had spotted a total of 42 Chinese warships in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from mainland China. It said 29 Chinese warplanes crossed the median line in the strait in its air defense identification zone. Eight PLA aircraft were spotted in the strait, it said.
The exercise comes a day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen returned from a 10-day trip to Central America and the United States, where she met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
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Beijing has repeatedly warned against the trip and threatened “strong and decisive measures” if it goes ahead.
Although it has never ruled Taiwan, China claims it is a self-governing democracy and has sought to isolate it diplomatically for decades.
Intrusions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, a self-proclaimed buffer zone outside its territorial airspace, occur almost daily.
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, an Air Force pilot from the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) participates in exercises around Taiwan, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that it was closely monitoring the situation and would do everything possible to protect national security and sovereignty.
“The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is deliberately creating tension across the Taiwan Strait. Apart from harming peace and stability, it also adversely affects regional security and development.
Earlier on Saturday, the ministry had said that it would respond to the exercise in a calm, rational and serious manner and would not try to escalate the controversy.
China responded when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, launching a series of military exercises surrounding the island and firing missiles at it.
The exercises are the first time China has fired missiles at the island, and many experts see them as a major extension of China’s military threat to Taiwan.
Some of those missiles also landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the Japanese islands north of Taiwan, a move that has raised tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
The August exercise involved PLA Navy warships taking part in maneuvers in the waters around Taiwan and dozens of Chinese warplanes entering Taiwan’s air defense detection zone.
At the time Beijing said it was enforcing an air and sea “blockade” of the island, but provided little concrete evidence to support the claim.
Taiwanese officials expected a less violent response to Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy than on American soil.
To provoke Beijing and avoid another military crisis, the U.S. And Taiwanese officials described Tai’s visit as routine, the first by a Taiwanese leader to the United States.
But the political significance of Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy is undeniable. Officially second only to the vice president, it was the highest level of audience a Taiwanese president has ever received on American soil.
Their meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library highlighted the growing ties between Taipei and Washington, although they remained informal in nature. The US withdrew diplomatic recognition for Taiwan in 1979, meaning it was no longer officially recognized as a country. However, it supports Taiwan’s ability to sell arms to Taipei.
After a meeting between Tsai and McCarthy on Wednesday, the US House Speaker said his country should continue its support for Taiwan.
“We must continue to sell weapons to Taiwan and ensure that such sales reach Taiwan in a timely manner. We should also strengthen our economic cooperation, especially in trade and technology.