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China Stages Military Drills Around Taiwan Over Tsai’s US Trip

China is conducting military drills near Taiwan with warships and fighter jets, which flew in the Strait on Saturday to show Beijing’s anger over Tsai’s meeting with US Speaker Kevin McCarthy

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A Chinese warship is seen near Fuzhou and Taiwan's Matsu Islands. Photo: Reuters


China has been staging military drills near Taiwan in an expression of anger at President Tsai Ing-Wen’s visit to the United States.

Some 42 Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait on Saturday to show Beijing’s displeasure over Tsai’s meeting with Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

The three-day drills, announced the day after Tsai returned from the United States, had been widely expected after China condemned her meeting on Wednesday with McCarthy in Los Angeles.

China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan’s government strongly objects to China’s claims.

Beijing’s announcement also came just hours after China hosted a visit by senior European leaders, France’s Emmanuel Macron and EU President Ursula van der Leyen.


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‘Warning’ against foreign collusion

The People’s Liberation Army said it had started the combat readiness patrols and “Joint Sword” exercises around Taiwan, having said earlier it would be holding them in the Taiwan Strait and to the north, south and east of Taiwan “as planned”.

“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 Chinese army’s Eastern Theater Command said in a statement.

The three days of drills were described by the BBC as “rehearsing encirclement of Taiwan”.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Saturday morning it spotted 42 Chinese fighters – J-10s, J-11s and J-16s, crossing the median line that normally serves as an unofficial batter between the two sides, as well as eight Chinese ships.

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.”

Chinese state media released what it said was footage of the drills, set to stirring martial music and showing warships at sea and fighter jets doing airborne refuelling. It is not known if the video was authentic.


Taiwanese used to threats

There was no broader sense of alarm in Taiwan about the drills, where people are long accustomed to Chinese threats.

China had threatened unspecified retaliation if the meeting with McCarthy – second in line to succeed the US president, after the vice president – were to take place. Beijing staged war games around Taiwan, including live-fire missile launches, in August after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.

A senior Taiwan official familiar with security planning in the region said the aircraft had only crossed the median line briefly, while the ships had already turned back, unlike in August when vessels from both navies engaged in stand-offs.

The situation was “as expected” and manageable, and Taiwan’s government has rehearsed various scenarios for its response, the person said on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Reporters in a seaside area near Fuzhou, opposite the Taiwan-controlled Matsu islands, saw a Chinese warship firing shells onto a drill area on China’s coast, part of drills announced by China late on Friday.

Tsai, hosting a lunch on Saturday with a visiting US lawmaker delegation, led by Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she looked forward to strengthening security cooperation with the United States.

“I would like to reiterate that the people of Taiwan love democracy and seek peace,” she said, without directly mentioning the drills in comments before television cameras.

Tsai has repeatedly offered talks with China but has been rebuffed as the government views her as a separatist. She says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary on Saturday that the government has “a strong ability to thwart any form of Taiwan independence secession”.

“All countermeasures taken by the Chinese government belong to China’s legitimate and legal right to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.


Waited till Macron left

International Crisis Group analyst Amanda Hsiao said China’s measured response to date was likely due to a number of factors, including the fact the meeting took place in the US, which was meant as a compromise by Taipei and Washington, and that former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou was visiting China.

“An overly belligerent response would undercut Beijing’s message to Taiwan that economic exchange and dialogue with the mainland will deliver benefits and so Taiwanese citizens should vote for Ma’s opposition Kuomintang party, which favours closer ties with Beijing, in the upcoming election set for January 2024,” Hsiao said.

Unlike in August, China has yet to announce whether it will also stage missile drills. When China announced the previous drills, it published a map showing which maritime areas near Taiwan it would be firing into.

The security source said April is when China typically carries out military exercises.

Taiwanese officials had expected a less severe reaction to the McCarthy meeting, given it took place in the United States, but they had said they could not rule out the possibility of China staging more drills.

China’s announcement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron left China, where he met President Xi Jinping and other senior leaders. Macron urged Beijing to talk sense to Russia over the war in Ukraine.

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen, also in China this week to meet Xi, said stability in the Taiwan Strait was of paramount importance.

Xi responded by saying that expecting China to compromise on Taiwan was “wishful thinking”, according to China’s official reading of the meeting.

China’s defence ministry, as well as carrying the announcement of the drills around Taiwan, showed pictures on its home page of Xi meeting Macron and von der Leyen.


  • Reuters with additional reporting and editing by Jim Pollard


NOTE: Further comment was added to this report on April 8, 2023.




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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