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China begins military drills near Taiwan, says they “serve as a stern warning”

China launched military drills around Taiwan on Saturday, in what it called a “stern warning” to the self-ruled island’s government following a meeting between its president and the U.S. House speaker.

Dubbed “United Sharp Sword,” the three-day operation will run until Monday, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command said in a statement.

It will take place in “the maritime areas and air space of the Taiwan Strait, off the northern and southern coasts of the island, and to the island’s east,” said Shi Yin, a PLA spokesman, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Taiwan Navy warships
Two Taiwanese Navy warships are seen anchored on April 7, 2023 in Keelung, Taiwan.

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China on Thursday began deploying warships around Taiwan. In the past 24 hours, three Chinese warships sailed through waters surrounding Taiwan, according to the island’s defense ministry.    

The exercise will also include live-fire drills on Monday off the coast of China’s Fujian province, which faces Taiwan, the local maritime authority said in a statement.

The drills come after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen angered Beijing by meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. 

Tsai immediately denounced the drills Saturday, and pledged to work with “the U.S. and other like-minded countries” in the face of “continued authoritarian expansionism.”

In Washington, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. had “consistently urged restraint and no change to the status quo,” but noted it had ample resources to fulfill its security commitments in Asia.

The United States has been ambiguous on whether it would militarily defend Taiwan, although for decades it has sold weapons to Taipei to help ensure its self-defense.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry released a video showing soldiers loading antiaircraft missile launchers, fighter jets taking off, and other military preparedness exercises. The footage included surveillance of China’s Shandong aircraft carrier, which sailed through waters south of Taiwan earlier this week.

The 75-second clip, which included English subtitles, ended with a caption saying: “We seek neither escalation nor conflict, but we remain steadfast, rational, and serious to react and defend our territory and sovereignty.”

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry on Saturday lashed out against Beijing’s announcement of the drills, saying they threatened regional stability.

China was using Tsai’s U.S. visit as an “excuse to conduct military exercises, which has seriously undermined peace, stability and security in the region”, the ministry said.

On Thursday, meanwhile, Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led a House delegation which traveled to Taiwan to meet with Taiwanese business leaders and senior government officials “to discuss ways the U.S. can strengthen our economic and defense relationship with Taiwan in the face of growing threats in the region,” his office said.  

China views democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

“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 Shi said. “The operations are necessary for safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The drills also follow the departure from Beijing of French President Emmanuel Macron and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who were in China to urge Xi Jinping to help bring about an end to the war in Ukraine.

Last August, China deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest show of force in years, following a trip to the island by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.

McCarthy had originally planned to go to Taiwan himself. The decision to meet in California instead was viewed as a compromise that would underscore support for Taiwan but avoid inflaming tensions with Beijing.

There were no immediate signs of heightened military activity on Pingtan, a southwestern Chinese island that is the closest point on the mainland to Taiwan.

A handful of cargo ships cruised through the waters near the coastline, while tourists in sunglasses and baseball caps snapped selfies on the viewing platforms.

But Fujian’s provincial maritime authority has warned vessels not to enter waters near the live-fire drills on Monday.

Tsai returned to Taiwan on Friday after visiting her island’s dwindling band of official diplomatic allies in Latin America, with two US stopovers that included meetings with McCarthy and other lawmakers.

“We let the international community see that Taiwan is more united when facing pressure and threats,” she told reporters, describing her trip as a success, adding: “We will never yield to suppression.”

Hours before her meeting with McCarthy on Wednesday, China sent its Shandong aircraft carrier through Taiwan’s southeastern waters on its way to the western Pacific.

Beijing said earlier Friday that “Taiwan is an inseparable part of China,” after repeatedly warning against the Tsai-McCarthy meeting.

“China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will never be divided,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular press briefing.

“The future of Taiwan lies in reunification with the motherland.”

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