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China launches military drills around Taiwan after US Speaker visit | CNN


China says it has started three days of military exercises around Taiwan, in an announcement that comes after the island democracy’s president met the US House Speaker in defiance of repeated threats by Beijing.

The Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command announced the drills Saturday, describing them as “a serious warning against the Taiwan separatist forces’ collusion with external forces, and a necessary move to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The exercises, dubbed “United Sharp Sword,” would feature “combat ready patrols and exercises in and around the Taiwan Strait, and to the north, south and east of Taiwan and the sea and airspace as planned,” Senior Colonel Shi Yi of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Eastern Theater Command said in a statement on Saturday.

The drills would focus on the country’s “capabilities to seize control of sea, air and information under the support of our joint combat system,” said the PLA.

Soon after the announcement by China, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had detected a total of 42 Chinese warplanes over the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from the Chinese mainland. It said 29 Chinese warplanes had crossed the median line in the strait into its air defense identification zone. It added that eight PLA vessels had been spotted in the strait.

The drills come a day after Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen returned from a 10-day visit to Central America and the United States where she met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Beijing had repeatedly warned against the trip and had previously threatened to take “strong and resolute measures” if it went ahead. China claims the self-governing democracy of Taiwan as part of its territory, despite never having ruled it, and has spent decades trying to isolate it diplomatically. It has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.

Incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, a self-declared buffer zone beyond its territorial airspace, occur on an almost daily basis.

The highest daily number of Chinese jets entering Taiwan’s ADIZ in a single day was 56 warplanes back in October 2021.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, an air force pilot from the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) takes part in exercises around Taiwan on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Saturday it was closely monitoring the situation and would make every effort to defend national security and sovereignty.

“The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is deliberately creating tensions on the Taiwan Strait. Besides damaging peace and stability, it also creates negative impact on regional safety and development,” the ministry said.

The ministry had said earlier on Saturday it would respond to the drills in a calm, rational and serious way, and not seek to escalate conflict.

China reacted in a similar fashion when then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, launching a series of military drills that surrounded the island and firing missiles over it.

Those drills were the first time China had fired missiles over the island, and many experts saw them as representing a major escalation of China’s military intimidation against Taiwan.

Some of those missiles also fell into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone near Japanese islands to the north of Taiwan, a move which heightened tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Wednesday, April 5, 2023.

The August exercises also involved dozens of Chinese warplanes crossing into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone as well as PLA Navy warships in maneuvers in waters around Taiwan.

Beijing said at the time it was simulating an air and sea “blockade” of the island, but offered little solid evidence to back up the claim.

Officials in Taiwan had reportedly been expecting a less severe reaction to Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy because it took place on US soil.

To avoid provoking Beijing and triggering another military crisis, American and Taiwan officials had tried to portray Tsai’s visit as nothing out of the ordinary, citing an abundance of precedents for a Taiwan leader to transit through the US.

But the political significance of Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy is undeniable. It was the highest-level audience a sitting Taiwan president had received on American soil, with an official second in line to the presidency after the vice president.

Their meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library highlighted the strengthening ties between Taipei and Washington, even though they remain unofficial in nature. The US withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan back in 1979, meaning it does not officially recognize it as a country. However, it supports Taiwan’s ability to defend itself by selling arms to Taipei.

Following the meeting between Tsai and McCarthy Wednesday, the US House Speaker said his country should continue to boost its support for Taiwan.

“We must continue arms sales to Taiwan and make sure such sales reach Taiwan on time. We must also strengthen our economic cooperation, particularly with trade and technology,” he tweeted.

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