China has launched air and sea military exercises around Taiwan to send a “stern warning” to separatist forces on the island following a recent visit by Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai to the United States.
Taiwan responded on Saturday saying the drills highlighted Beijing’s “militaristic mentality” and that combat aircraft, naval ships and land-based missile systems had been tasked with monitoring Chinese forces.
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The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, which has responsibility for the area around Taiwan, said in a brief statement earlier on Saturday that it was carrying out joint naval and air combat readiness patrols around Taiwan.
The eastern command said the exercises focused on ship-aircraft coordination to test seizing control of air and sea space, and to test combat capabilities.
“The patrols and exercises serve as a stern warning to the collusion of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists with foreign elements and their provocations,” a spokesperson for the eastern command told China’s state-run Xinhua news.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that missile-equipped vessels and fighter jets were involved in the operation and that units worked together to simulate the surrounding of Taiwan.
PLA destroyers, frigates, missile boats, fighters, early warning aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, and conventional missile units started to approach and deter Taiwan island from multiple directions in Saturday's joint drills. pic.twitter.com/5Md3Ftxy0e
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 19, 2023
Taiwan’s defence ministry quickly condemned the drills, saying it had deployed appropriate forces to respond and had the ability, determination and confidence to ensure national security.
“The launch of the military exercise this time not only does not help peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait but also highlights [China’s] militaristic mentality,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry later reported that 42 Chinese aircraft and eight ships were involved in the drills, and 26 aircraft had crossed the median line which separates the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and previously stood as an unofficial border between the two sides.
Taiwan combat aircraft, land-based missile systems and naval vessels have been deployed to monitor the drills, the defence ministry said on social media.
The R.O.C. Armed Forces are closely monitoring the situation with our ISR system and have deployed CAP aircraft, naval vessels, and land-based missile systems in response.
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) August 19, 2023
‘A troublemaker through and through’
Taiwan’s Vice President Lai, the frontrunner to be Taiwan’s next president at elections in January, returned from the US on Friday, where he had stopped over on his way to and from an official state visit to Paraguay.
Taiwanese officials and analysts had said China was likely to conduct military exercises this week near the island in response, using Lai’s transit through the US as a pretext to intimidate Taiwanese voters ahead of next year’s presidential election and make them “fear war”.
China’s foreign ministry issued a statement to coincide with Lai’s arrival in the US, saying it was opposed to any form of a visit by “Taiwan independence separatists” to the US.
“Lai stubbornly adheres to the separatist position of Taiwan independence and is a troublemaker through and through,” the ministry said.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Saturday said it was up to Taiwan’s citizens to decide on their upcoming elections, “not the bully next door”, responding to Chinese military drills.
“China should hold its own elections; I’m sure its people would be thrilled,” he wrote on the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory, and Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the democratic, self-governed island, increasing military activity near the island in recent years in response to what it calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
The Chinese drills launched on Saturday followed shortly after the US, Japan and South Korea hailed “a new era of trilateral partnership” following a meeting in Maryland at the US presidential retreat Camp David, where the three powers criticised China’s behaviour in the South China Sea.
In a joint statement US President Joe Biden, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said they were resolute in their “determination to uphold regional security, strengthen Indo-Pacific engagement, and promote common prosperity” and condemned Beijing’s “dangerous and aggressive” behaviour in the South China Sea.
Last August, China launched days of large-scale military drills around Taiwan in response to a visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei.
Pelosi’s visit led to an unprecedented six days of Chinese military exercises that featured China’s J-20 stealth fighter jets and test firing of conventional missiles.