China has started exercises in response to the visit of the vice president of Taiwan to the United States

Two Chinese military helicopters fly past a PLA Navy tugboat as seen from Pingtan Island in southeast China’s Fujian Province, the closest point to Taiwan, on April 7, 2023. military exercises around the island.

Greg Baker | AFP | Getty Images

China launched military exercises around Taiwan on Saturday in a “serious warning” to separatist forces in an angry but widely expected response to a visit by Vice President William Lai to the United States, condemning Taipei.

Lai, who is running for president of Taiwan in January’s election, returned from the United States on Friday. He officially only took breaks on the way to and from Paraguay, but he did make appearances while in the United States

China considers democratically-ruled Taiwan its territory, despite strong protests from the island’s government.

The Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army made a brief statement and said that it carried out joint patrols of sea and air combat training around the island.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had detected 42 Chinese aircraft and eight ships participating in exercises around the island since early Saturday morning, and deployed ships and aircraft in response.

The ministry said 26 Chinese aircraft crossed the median line of the 100 km (60 mi) wide Taiwan Strait or areas beyond each end of the line. For decades, the line served as an unofficial barrier between the two armies.

The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command said the forces “conducted joint naval and air force training and exercises, conducting ship-to-aircraft coordination, surveillance and anti-submarine exercises in northern and southwestern Taiwan to test their actual combat capabilities.”

“This is a serious warning against separatist forces colluding with foreign forces to wreak havoc on Taiwan’s independence,” he said.

“Normal diplomatic relations”

The command released video footage purportedly taken on Saturday of a patrol by J-16 and J-10 fighter jets and a naval destroyer.

The text accompanying the footage, set to the roar of an orchestra, said the exercises were being conducted to “test the actual combat capabilities of joint operations of forces in theater.”

Without giving details, destroyers, frigates and fast-attack missile boats have been deployed, as well as fighter jets, early warning and jamming aircraft that “gather in a pre-defined area”.

The command said that the forces have implemented a comprehensive siege of the island.

Taiwan’s government strongly condemned the exercise, while the defense ministry said it had the capability, determination and confidence to ensure national security.

Taiwan’s government’s China policy-making Council for Main Institution Affairs called on Beijing to end its threats and start negotiations, saying the Taiwanese people are determined to defend themselves and will never bow to threats of force.

“The Republic of China, Taiwan is a sovereign country and has the legal and legitimate right to establish normal diplomatic relations with friendly countries,” he said, using the island’s official name.

Taiwanese officials said China would hold military exercises near the island this week, using Lai’s detention in the United States as a pretext to scare voters and make them “fear war” ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu wrote on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that China has made it clear it wants to shape the island’s elections, but that should be decided by the Taiwanese people, not “neighborly violence.”

“Look, China has to hold its own elections; I’m sure its people will be excited,” he said.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense released a short video of undated footage showing Taiwanese forces at sea, on city streets and in the countryside. Also, the title of the video shot with orchestral music is “Resolutely defend national sovereignty, protect democratic freedom and people’s security!”

A few hours before the drills, US President Joe Biden and the leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed to deepen defense and economic cooperation at Camp David, while affirming “the importance of peace and stability along the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of security and prosperity in the Taiwan Strait.” international community.”

“Fear War”

The full extent of Saturday’s maneuvers was not immediately clear, and there was no alarm on the streets of Taiwan, long accustomed to Chinese threats.

“I don’t think there will be a war, I’m not afraid,” said Chou Yu-hsuan, 20, a university student.

Regional defense attachés and analysts have been scrutinizing the scale and intensity of the operations, trying to assess them against China’s intense war games in August 2022 and April this year.

After then-Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei last year, China’s military fired missiles over Taiwan, some of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and conducted naval exercises around the island in what Taiwanese officials described as preparations. full occupation.

The April drills came after President Tsai Ing-wen met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at a stopover in California.

A senior Taiwanese official familiar with the security plans told Reuters that unlike in April, China has not named the current drills and waited to hold them until after the Camp David summit, signaling that China wants to “reduce direct confrontation” with international organizations. community.

China particularly disliked Lai for his earlier comments that he was a “practical worker for Taiwan independence”. On the campaign trail, he vowed to maintain the status quo and repeatedly offered to negotiate with Beijing.

Beijing’s confirmation of the exercises was accompanied by a series of state media articles condemning Lai, with the official Xinhua news agency calling him “Lying Lay”.

Shortly before the military’s announcement, China’s ruling Communist Party’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Lai’s detention in the United States was “a mask used to sell Taiwan’s interests in order to profit by dishonest actions in local elections.”

The United States, like most countries, has no official ties to Taiwan, but is its strongest international supporter and is bound by law to provide the island with means of self-defense.

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