A total of 42 Chinese warplanes and eight naval vessels were spotted around Taiwan on Aug. 19, just a day after Taiwanese vice president William Lai Ching-te returned from a sensitive trip to the United States.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry detected 42 PLA (People’s Liberation Army) aircraft, of which 26 crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, prompting Taiwan’s military to deploy aircraft, naval vessels, and land-based missile systems in response.
China’s military said it launched joint air and sea patrols, and navy and air force military exercises, around Taiwan as a “stern warning” to the “collusion of Taiwan independence separatists with foreign elements and their provocations.”
Shi Yi, spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, said the drills will test the armed forces’ “ability to fight in real combat conditions,” state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
“The patrols and exercises are meant to train the coordination of military vessels and airplanes and their ability to seize control of air and sea spaces,” the spokesperson stated.
In response, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry criticized China for its “irrational and provocative behavior,” saying it caused “substantial damage to regional security.”
The ministry said it will dispatch appropriate forces to respond to the situation.
“Launching a military exercise under pretext this time not only does not help the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait but also highlights its militaristic mentality and confirms the hegemonic nature of military expansion,” the ministry stated.
China’s military drills occurred while the leaders of the United States, Japan, and South Korea held a trilateral summit for the first time at Camp David, in Maryland, on Aug. 18 to discuss expanding trilateral cooperation in Indo-Pacific and beyond.
China Condemns Lai’s US Visit
The drills came just a day after Mr. Lai, the front-runner in Taiwan’s presidential elections, ended his trip to Paraguay, where he attended the president’s inauguration.
Paraguay is Taiwan’s last diplomatic ally in South America after Honduras severed ties with the self-governing island nation in favor of China in March, leaving Taiwan with formal diplomatic relations with only 13 countries.
Mr. Lai made transits in New York and San Francisco during the trip. While in the United States, he gave speeches to the Taiwanese community and met officials from the American Institute in Taiwan.
China’s Foreign Ministry condemned the visit and called Mr. Lai “a troublemaker,” reiterating that Beijing “firmly opposes any form of official interaction between the U.S. and the Taiwan region.”
“China is closely following the developments of the situation and will take resolute and strong measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement.
A top U.S. official has said that such stopovers by Taiwanese officials are routine, that they’ve happened many times previously, and that there is no reason for Beijing to take “provocative” responses.
“Given the really long distances that people are traveling, these transits really are a way to sort of provide for safety, comfort, convenience and dignity of the traveler,” Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, told reporters in July.
“On the issue of how the [People’s Republic of China] might or might not react, like I said before, this is a routine occurrence,” said Ms. Oudkirk, the de facto U.S. ambassador in Taiwan.
“There is absolutely no reason for the PRC to use the transit as a pretext for any sort of provocative action,” she added.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views Taiwan as a renegade province that must be united with the mainland by any means necessary, even though Taiwan has never been ruled by the CCP and has its own democratic government.