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China launches drills around Taiwan as 'stern warning'

April 8, 2023

Over 70 Chinese planes and nine ships were detected around Taiwan. The drills come after Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

In this video still, a Mirage fighter jet prepares for takeoff at an air base in Hsinchu. Taiwan's Ministry of Defense said it was tracking the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong as it passed southeast of Taiwan through the Bashi Strait.
China said its three-day drills were a "stern warning" to Taiwan after its president met the US Congress speakerImage: picture alliance/dpa/AP

China launched military drills around Taiwan early on Saturday, saying it was a "stern warning" as Beijing tries to assert its control over the strait separating the island from the Chinese mainland following a meeting between Taiwan's president and the US House speaker.

A Chinese warship fired multiple artillery rounds in the Luoyan Bay during live-fire drills as part of the three-day training exercise dubbed "United Sharp Sword."

Taiwan's Defense Ministry said at least 71 Chinese planes and nine vessels were detected around the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from the Chinese mainland.

The ministry added that "45 of the detected aircraft had crossed northern, central, and southern median line of the Taiwan Strait and entered our southwest ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone)."

The ministry expressed its "solemn condemnation of such irrational actions."

China has been vocal about its utter rejection of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, describing it as a "a political show." The meeting took place afer Tsai stopped in California on her way home, after completing a trip to Central America. 

Taiwan leader's US trip raises tensions with China

The Taiwanese leader has transited via the United States seven times since taking office in 2016, often meeting US officials, including members of Congress. However, this was the first meeting between a House speaker and a Taiwanese president on US soil.

What do we know about the drills?

The Eastern Theater Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) said the drills would take place around Taiwan's maritime areas and airspace, "off the northern and southern coasts of the island, and to the island's east."

An amphibious landing craft fired multiple rounds of artillery in the vicinity of Luoyan Bay on the coast of Fujian province, which is situated in China, facing Taiwan.

"These operations serve as a stern warning against the collusion between separatist forces seeking 'Taiwan independence' and external forces and against their provocative activities," the PLA's spokesman, Shi Yin, said.

He added that they were "necessary for safeguarding China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

What do the drills mean?

China considers Taiwan part of its territory, and has stressed it will not hesitate to use force to assert its power over the strait. 

Tensions between Taiwan and Beijing have peaked since a visit to the strait by former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi last summer. China also held military drills following the visit.

China launches biggest drills in decades

"Now that the categorical difference in China's response to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan and Tsai's meeting with McCarthy in California is gone, it's worth observing whether the exercise announced today will be qualitatively and quantitatively different from the weeklong military exercise staged around Taiwan last August following Pelosi's visit to Taiwan,” Wenti Sung, a China expert at the Australian National University, told DW.

Emmanuel Macron (L), President of France, Xi Jinping (C), President of China, and Ursula von der Leyen (R), President of the European Commission, stand together for an official photo before their talks in Beijing.
French President Macron (L) and EU Commissioner von der Leyen (R) have just concluded an official visit to BeijingImage: Ludovic Marin/Pool AFP/AP/dpa/picture alliance

"China may have considered to announce the military exercises because former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou and French President Emmanuel Macron as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have completed their trips to China and left," he said.

The European leaders concluded a three-day official visit to China on Friday. The trip was centered around smoothing EU ties with the country amid growing friction with the US, as well as pushing Beijing to take a more active role in mediating peace in Ukraine.

Sung said China might wish to show that if the US and Taiwan plan to normalize routine high-level political meetings, it will make military exercises around Taiwan more common. 

Additional reporting from William Yang in Taipei

rm, rmt/kb (AFP, Reuters)