China conducts military drills near Taiwan as US lawmakers visit

The trip by US lawmakers followed by the US House speaker’s visit has infuriated China, which considers it provocation.

An air force aircraft under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) takes part in military exercises in the waters around Taiwan on August 4
An air force aircraft under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) takes part in military exercises in the waters around Taiwan on August 4 [File: Reuters]

China’s military has said it carried out more exercises near Taiwan as a group of US lawmakers visited the contested island and met President Tsai Ing-wen, as Beijing protested against infringement of its sovereignty.

“This is a solemn deterrent against the US and Taiwan for continuing to play political tricks and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Shi Yi, spokesman for the Chinese military’s Eastern Theatre Command, said in a statement, promising to “resolutely defend national sovereignty”.

China considers the self-ruled island its own territory and says it will take it over by force, if necessary. Beijing accuses the United States of going against its “one China” policy, while Washington backs Taiwan without recognising it.

The US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to provide the democratically governed island with the means to defend itself.

The five US lawmakers, led by Senator Ed Markey, arrived in Taipei on an unannounced visit late on Sunday, the second high-level group to visit following that of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August, which set off several days of Chinese war games.

The visiting US lawmakers were due to meet Tsai on Monday morning. Her office has yet to comment on the meeting.

China’s Defence Ministry said in a separate statement that the lawmakers’ trip infringed on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and “fully exposes the true face of the United States as a spoiler and spoiler of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army continues to train and prepare for war, resolutely defends national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will resolutely crush any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatism and foreign interference.”

Neither statement gave details of the drills.

Pelosi’s visit infuriated China, which responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, ditching some lines of dialogue with Washington, including theatre military talks and on climate change.

Taiwan’s government has accused Beijing of using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to launch military drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.

US legislators’ visits to Taiwan

Though Pelosi stood by her visit, President Joe Biden said the US military was opposed to the trip by his fellow Democrat, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.

Congress is constitutionally an equal branch of government in the US, with lawmakers free to travel where they wish, and Taiwan enjoys bipartisan backing in divided Washington.

The US switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. But it remains a key ally of Taiwan and maintains de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Washington’s official policy opposes Taiwan declaring independence or China forcibly changing the island’s status.

It remains deliberately ambiguous about whether it would militarily come to Taiwan’s aid if China invaded.

Visits by senior US officials to Taiwan have happened for decades, and even Pelosi’s trip was not without precedent – then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited the island in 1997.

But the frequency and profile of US visits have increased under Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Taiwan has also seen a flurry of delegations visit from Europe and other Western allies in recent years, partly in response to Beijing’s more aggressive stance under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies