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China holds military drills around Taiwan as a 'punishment'

May 23, 2024

Beijing say the drills are a "strong punishment" for "separatist acts," three days after Taiwan's new President Lai Ching-te was sworn in. Taiwan has condemned the "irrational provocations."

Taiwanese air force Mirage 2000 fighter jets
Taiwan has mobilized sea, air and ground forces in response to Beijing's movesImage: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP

Chinese naval vessels and military aircraft encircled Taiwan as Beijing conducted joint military drills  on Thursday following the inauguration of Taiwan's new President Lai Ching-te.

In the past, Beijing has called Lai a "dangerous separatist" who will bring "war and decline" to the region.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry said the "irrational provocation has jeopardized regional peace and stability."

What China said about the drills around Taiwan

The Chinese military's Eastern Theatre Command stated the drills involve the army, navy, air force, and rocket force in the Taiwan Strait and around Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin Islands.

The exercises, which will last until Friday, focus on joint sea-air combat readiness, precision strikes, and integrated operations to test real combat capabilities, Chinese state media Xinhua reported.

Chinese military Eastern Theater Command spokesperson Naval Colonel Li Xi said the drills are a "strong punishment" for "separatist acts" three days after Lai was sworn in. He also called the drills "a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces," Xinhua reported.

The picture is released by China's People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command, showing the map of drills held around Taiwan
The Taiwan Strait separates the island of Taiwan and the Asian continentImage: https://mil.huanqiu.com

Chinese state media published a map showing five drill zones around Taiwan, but outside its contiguous zone.

Although the drills are short-term, their scope is significant, aiming to demonstrate China's control over the seas and deter foreign intervention, experts said.

"The political signals here are greater than the military ones," Su Tzu-yun, a researcher at Taiwan's Institute for National Defence and Security Research, said.

A person stands in a cafe
Taipei condemned the drills, emphasizing its determination to defend its sovereigntyImage: Ann Wang/REUTERS

How has Taiwan reacted to the Chinese drills?

Taiwan said it has mobilized sea, air and ground forces to in response to Beijing's moves.

Taipei also condemned the drills, emphasizing its determination to defend its sovereignty.

The self-ruled island's Defense Ministry said in a statement that it "strongly condemned such irrational provocations and actions that undermine regional peace and stability."

The Defense Ministry's statement said that "all officers and soldiers of the armed forces are prepared," adding, "We uphold the strong will of 'preparing for war, not asking for war, responding to war, and not avoiding war.'"

The president's office called the drills "regrettable" and a threat to Taiwan's democracy and freedom.

"In the face of external challenges and threats, we will continue to defend democracy," presidential spokesperson Karen Kuo said in a statement.

US calls drills 'concerning' 

The United States, an ally of Taiwan, called the drills "concerning" but "expected."

US Lieutenant General Stephen Sklenka, the US Indo-Pacific Command deputy commander, called out for other's nations to condemn China's belligerence.

Sklenka added that "conflict between our two nations (the US and China) is not inevitable, and it's not a foregone conclusion."

In response, China's foreign ministry asked the US to stop supporting and encouraging "Taiwan independence" forces. Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the exercises a "necessary and legitimate move."

A Chinese military ship
China's military drills will last until FridayImage: Taiwan Coast Guard/AFP

Beijing-Taipei relations frayed

Taipei's relations with Beijing have deteriorated in recent years as China has increased pressure on the democratic island, raising periodic concerns about a potential invasion.

China sees democratic Taiwan as its territory and has maintained that the use of force to bring the island under its control is not off the table.

Beijing had previously rebuffed President Lai's attempts at dialogue and increased military activities near Taiwan since his election win in January.

In his inauguration address on Monday, Lai vowed to defend the island's democracy as he called on China to end its military intimidation of the self-ruled island.

He urged Beijing to "share with Taiwan the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait... and ensure the world is free from the fear of war."

How can Taiwan defend itself from China?

ss/rt (AFP, Reuters)