After the president of the democratic island of Taiwan met with the speaker of the United States House of Representatives in defiance of repeated warnings from Beijing, China announced that it had begun three days of military drills near Taiwan.
Described as “a serious warning against the Taiwan separatist forces’ collusion with external forces,” the exercises were announced by the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command on Saturday.
Shortly after China’s declaration, Taiwan’s defence ministry claimed to have seen 42 Chinese jets in the airspace above the Taiwan Strait. It said that 29 Chinese jets had entered its air defence identification zone across the strait’s middle line. Eight PLA boats, it was stated, had been observed in the waterway.
Tsai Ing-wen, president of Taiwan, came home after a 10-day trip to Central America and the United States on the day of the exercises, when she spoke with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Beijing had earlier promised to take “strong and resolute measures” if the trip went forward, and had warned repeatedly against it. For decades, China has tried to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, a self-governing democracy it claims as part of its territory despite never having controlled it. The use of force to subjugate the island has not been ruled out.
Almost every day, Chinese jets violate Taiwan’s self-declared air defence identification zone, which is a buffer zone outside the country’s territorial airspace.
In October of 2021, a total of 56 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s ADIZ in a single day.
On Saturday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said that it was keeping a close eye on developments and will do all in its power to protect the country’s security and independence.
Earlier on Saturday, the ministry had indicated it would react to the exercises in a cool, collected, and serious manner, rather than by trying to inflame the situation.
When then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, China replied in a similar way, conducting a series of military manoeuvres around the island and firing missiles over it.
Many observers interpreted China’s first missile exercises over the island as a dramatic escalation in Beijing’s military intimidation of Taiwan.
Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo escalated when several of the missiles hit the ocean near Japanese islands north of Taiwan, which are inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
Dozens of Chinese jets entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone during the August exercises, while PLA Navy vessels conducted drills in seas near Taiwan.
Beijing claimed at the time that it was staging a mock “blockade” of the island from the air and sea, but provided few evidence in support of this.
Since Tsai’s conversation with McCarthy took place in the United States, officials in Taiwan hoped for a more muted response.