China begins military exercises around Taiwan after US Speaker’s visit

Taipei (CNN) China says it has begun three days of military exercises around Taiwan, in an announcement that came after the island democracy’s president met with the US House speaker despite repeated threats from Beijing.

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

Dubbed “United Sharp Sword,” the drills will “feature planned combat readiness patrols and exercises in and around the Taiwan Strait, in northern, southern and eastern Taiwan, and at sea and in the air,” said Senior Col. Shi Yi. The Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement on Saturday.

The exercises will focus on the country’s “sea, air and information control capabilities under the auspices of our Joint Warfare System,” the PLA said.

After China’s announcement, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had spotted a total of 42 Chinese warplanes in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from mainland China. It said 29 Chinese warplanes crossed the Line of Control in the strait and entered its Air Defense Identification Zone. It added that eight PLA ships were spotted in the strait.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy a day after returning from a 10-day trip to Central America and the United States.

Beijing has repeatedly warned against the trip and has previously threatened to take “strong and decisive measures” if it goes ahead. China claims the self-governing democracy of Taiwan as part of its territory and, although it has never ruled it, has tried to isolate it diplomatically for decades. It did not rule out the use of force to bring the island under its control.

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Intrusions 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 fighter jets in October 2021.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, an Air Force pilot from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command takes part in exercises around Taiwan, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday it was closely monitoring the situation and would make every effort to protect national security and sovereignty.

“The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is deliberately creating tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Apart from harming peace and stability, it is creating a negative impact on regional security and development,” the ministry said.

Earlier on Saturday, the ministry said it would respond to the drills in a calm, rational and serious manner and not seek to escalate the conflict.

China responded in similar fashion when then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, cordoning off the island and launching missiles at it.

Those drills marked the first time China had fired missiles at the island, and many experts considered them to represent a major escalation of China’s military threat against Taiwan.

Some of those missiles landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the Japanese islands north of Taiwan, raising tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

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

August drills saw dozens of Chinese warplanes enter Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and PLA naval warships engaged in maneuvers in the waters surrounding Taiwan.

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

Officials in Taiwan are said to be expecting a less harsh reaction to Sai’s meeting with McCarthy since it took place on American soil.

To avoid provoking Beijing and provoking another military crisis, U.S. and Taiwanese officials have sought to portray Tsai’s visit as unusual, citing numerous precedents for the Taiwanese leader’s transit through the United States.

But the political significance of Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy is undeniable. This is the highest level of audience a Taiwanese president has ever received on US soil, and is the official second for the presidency after the vice president.

Their meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library highlighted the strengthening of ties between Taipei and Washington, even if they were unofficial in nature. The United States withdrew diplomatic recognition for Taiwan in 1979, meaning it no longer officially recognized it as a country. However, it supports Taiwan’s capability by selling arms to Taipei.

Following the meeting between Tsai and McCarthy, the US House Speaker said he would continue to increase his support for Taiwan.

“We must continue arms sales to Taiwan and ensure that such sales reach Taiwan in a timely manner. We must strengthen our economic cooperation, especially with trade and technology,” he tweeted.

Additional reporting by Nectar Kane and Eric Cheung

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