China has begun three days of military exercises around Taiwan amid anger in Beijing over Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting in California with the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its aims, will hold “combat readiness patrols” until April 10, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command said in a brief statement on Saturday.
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The drills, dubbed United Sharp Sword, involve exercises in the Taiwan Strait to the north and south of the island as well as in the sea and airspace to its east.
“This is a serious warning to the Taiwan independence separatist forces and external forces’ collusion and provocation, and it is a necessary action to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the PLA said.
Tsai met McCarthy on the return leg of a tour of the self-ruled island’s two remaining formal allies in Central America and arrived home on Friday.
Beijing had threatened retaliation even before the meeting took place. The Shandong aircraft carrier was spotted sailing through Taiwan’s southeastern waters on its way to the western Pacific hours before the meeting was scheduled on Wednesday.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it was monitoring the situation and would respond appropriately to defend the island’s security.
China was using Tsai’s US visit “as an excuse to carry out military exercises, which has seriously damaged regional peace, stability and security”, the ministry said in a statement.
“The military will respond with a calm, rational and serious attitude, and will stand guard and monitor in accordance with the principles of ‘not escalating nor disputes’ to defend national sovereignty and national security.”
On Friday, Beijing announced tightened sanctions against Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US, and the Ronald Reagan Library where Tsai and McCarthy met, but held back from the more overt response that followed the visit to the island last August of McCarthy’s predecessor Nancy Pelosi.
On that occasion China staged days of war games around Taiwan, including firing missiles across the island.
Analysts said the initial more muted reaction to the Tsai-McCarthy meeting could have been because it took place in the US, or because it coincided with a visit to Beijing by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The PLA drills began hours after Macron and von der Leyen, whose focus was the Ukraine crisis, had left.
A Chinese warship in seas facing the Taiwan Strait fired multiple rounds of artillery in the Luoyan Bay area on the coast of Fujian province, about 50 km (30 miles) northwest of the Matsu islands that are near the mainland but controlled by Taiwan.
Smoke and muzzle flares were visible from the stern of the vessel, an amphibious landing ship, as sailors fired shells towards targets on land and water, the Reuters news agency reported. Fishing boats and huge cargo vessels cruised nearby, avoiding the drill area.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said that 42 Chinese planes and eight ships crossed the strait’s median line, which normally serves as an unofficial buffer between the two sides, on Saturday morning.
A delegation of US legislators, led by Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is currently visiting Taiwan and met Tsai for lunch on Saturday.
McCaul said the delegation was in Taipei to show its support for the democratic island while Tsai said the people of Taiwan loved democracy and sought peace.
The US does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is the island’s biggest supporter internationally. It is also bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.