China launches drills around Taiwan in angry response to VP’s US trip



Air Force aircrafts take part in military drills by the Eastern Theatre Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) around Taiwan, in this screengrab from a handout video released August 19, 2023. Eastern Theatre Command/Handout via REUTERS





                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                China launched military drills around Taiwan on Saturday as a “serious warning” to separatist forces in an angry but widely expected response to Vice President William Lai’s visit to the United States, drawing condemnation from Taipei.

Lai, the front-runner to become Taiwan’s president in elections in January, returned from the United States on Friday. He officially made only stopovers on his way to and from Paraguay but gave speeches while in the U.S.

China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, despite the strong objections of the island’s government.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, which has responsibility for the area around Taiwan, said in a brief statement it was carrying out joint naval and air combat readiness patrols around the island.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had detected 42 Chinese aircraft and eight ships involved in drills around the island from Saturday morning and that it had deployed ships and aircraft in response.

Twenty-six Chinese aircraft crossed the median line of the 100-km-wide Taiwan Strait, or areas beyond each end of the line, the ministry said in a statement. For decades, the line served as an unofficial barrier between the two militarizes.

The PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command said it was holding joint exercises and training of naval and air forces, focussing on ship-aircraft coordination, seizing control and anti-submarine drills to the north and southwest of Taiwan to test the forces’ “actual combat capabilities”.

“This is a serious warning against Taiwan independence separatist forces colluding with external forces to provoke,” it said.

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

In text accompanying the footage, set to a thumping orchestral score, it said the drills were to “test the actual combat capabilities of joint operations of forces in the theatre”.

Equipment deployed included destroyers, frigates and fast attack missile boats as well as fighters, early warning and jamming aircraft that “assembled in a predetermined area”, it said, without giving details.

The forces carried out “omnidirectional encirclement of the island”, the command said.

Taiwan’s government strongly condemned the drills, with the defence ministry saying it had the ability, determination, and confidence to ensure national security.

The government’s Mainland Affairs Council, which makes Taiwan’s China policy, urged Beijing to stop its intimidation and start talks, saying Taiwan’s people were determined to defend themselves and would never succumb to threats of force.

“The Republic of China, Taiwan, is a sovereign country and has a legitimate and legal right to conduct normal diplomatic interactions with friendly countries,” it added in a statement, using the island’s formal name.

Taiwanese officials had said China was likely to conduct military exercises this week near the island, using Lai’s U.S. stopovers as a pretext to intimidate voters ahead of next year’s presidential election and make them “fear war”.

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party said China was trying to use the drills to interfere in January’s election, while the presidential office said Beijing should “fulfill its international obligations for regional security and stability”.

Taiwan’s defense ministry released a short video of undated footage showing Taiwanese forces on maneuver at sea, on city streets and across the countryside. Also set to orchestral music, the video was titled “firmly defend the defend national sovereignty and protect democratic freedom and people’s security!”

Hours before the drills, U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed at Camp David to deepen defense and economic cooperation, while reaffirming “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of security and prosperity in the international community.”

By Reuters

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