China stages war games in 'stern warning' to Taiwan

Agence France-Presse
China stages war games in 'stern warning' to Taiwan
A woman uses her mobile phone as she walks in front of a large screen showing a news broadcast about China's military exercises encircling Taiwan, in Beijing on August 4, 2022. China's largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan kicked off August 4, in a show of force straddling vital international shipping lanes after a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
AFP / Noel Celis

BEIJING, China — China held air and sea drills around Taiwan on Saturday, in what it said was a "stern warning" after the island's vice president visited the United States. 

William Lai -- the frontrunner in Taiwan's presidential election next year and a vocal opponent of Beijing's claims to the island -- stopped in New York and San Francisco on Friday while returning from a trip to Paraguay. 

China has reacted angrily, on Saturday reiterating that Lai was a "troublemaker" and vowing to take "resolute measures... to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity".

The People's Liberation Army "launched joint air and sea patrols and military exercises of the navy and air force around the island of Taiwan" on Saturday, military spokesperson Shi Yi said, according to state media outlet Xinhua.

Taiwan said 42 warplanes had entered its air defence zone since 9:00 am (0100 GMT), and eight Chinese vessels took part in the exercises. 

Twenty-six of the warplanes crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, the island's ministry of defence said in a statement. 

Xinhua said the drills were carried out "in the waters and airspace to the north and southwest of Taiwan Island" to test the PLA's ability "to seize control of air and sea spaces" and fight "in real combat conditions". 

They were also intended to serve as "a stern warning to the collusion of 'Taiwan independence' separatists with foreign elements and their provocations", it added.

A social media video published by the PLA on Saturday showed soldiers in fatigues sprinting through a military facility and fighter jets soaring above clouds, set to action-movie-style music.

Taiwan said it strongly condemned "such irrational and provocative behaviour" and that it would dispatch "appropriate forces" to respond "with practical actions". 

"Conducting a military exercise this time under a pretext not only does not help the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, but also highlights (China's) militaristic mentality," Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence said. 

Washington said it would "monitor the exercises closely".

"We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan," the State Department said in a statement.

'New provocative move'

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and has pledged to take it one day, by force if necessary.

It launched major military exercises last year after Nancy Pelosi, then the speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan, and later when President Tsai Ing-wen transited through the United States.

However, Sifu Ou at Taiwan's Institute for National Defense and Security Research told AFP he thought "the scale of PLA exercise (this time) will be moderate". 

"It will put pressure on Taiwan and not cause negative effects that will help William Lai," Ou said.  

Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu accused China of trying to interfere with Taiwan's presidential elections, due in January. 

"The PRC has made it clear it wants to shape Taiwan's coming national election," Wu wrote on social media.

"Well, it's up to our citizens to decide, not the bully next door." 

When China previously launched military exercises around Taiwan during an election year, they were seen as helping candidates from Lai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is largely regarded as pro-Washington. 

The United States had called for calm over Lai's visit, which it described as routine travel. 

Lai stopped in New York and returned via San Francisco as part of his visit to Paraguay, one of the dwindling number of nations that diplomatically recognise Taipei.

But on Saturday, an official from the Communist Party's Taiwan Work Office "strongly condemned" Lai's trip, calling it a "new provocative move" by the DPP, "to further collude with the United States", Xinhua said. 

"Those who connive at and support 'Taiwan independence' will eventually get burnt," Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned on Friday.

At a lunch in New York during the trip, Lai vowed "to resist annexation" and continue to uphold the core tenets of Tsai's administration. 

Lai has been far more outspoken about independence than Tsai, who herself faces hostility from Beijing as she refuses its view that Taiwan is a part of China.

At a summit on Friday, the leaders of the United States, Japan and South Korea said they opposed China's "dangerous and aggressive behaviour" asserting maritime claims in the Asia Pacific region.

"We reaffirm the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of security and prosperity in the international community," the leaders said in a statement.

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