Taiwan holds live-fire drills as China extends war games

Taiwan’s top diplomat accuses China of simulating an invasion as Taiwanese and Chinese militaries conduct drills in Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan military soldiers fire the 155-inch howitzers during a live fire anti landing drill in the Pingtung county, southern Taiwan on August 9, 2022.
Taiwan soldiers fire howitzers during a live-fire anti-landing drill in Pingtung county, southern Taiwan on August 9, 2022 [Sam Yeh / AFP]

Taiwan’s military has held live-fire artillery drills simulating a defence of the island as China continued the air and naval exercises it had launched in protest against US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled territory.

Taiwanese officials say Tuesday’s drills, which involved soldiers firing howitzer artillery out to sea, had long been scheduled and were not a reaction to China’s unprecedented war games.

Shortly after the hour-long Taiwanese drills ended, China’s Eastern Theater Command announced that it was continuing its exercises in the seas and airspace around Taiwan.

The Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed source, also reported that about 20 Chinese and Taiwanese navy boats were locked in a “standoff” in the Taiwan Strait, with some of the Chinese boats attempting to “press” into the waterway’s median line, the de facto sea border between China and Taiwan.

China claims democratically governed Taiwan, an island of 23 million people, as its own and has called Pelosi’s visit there last week a violation of its sovereignty and a provocation by the United States.

The joint air and sea exercises it launched in response have been its largest in the Taiwan Strait and involved test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time. They took place in six zones around the island and were scheduled to run for four days and end on Sunday.

A Navy Force helicopter under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) takes part in military exercises in the waters around Taiwan, at an undisclosed location on August 8, 2022
A navy helicopter under the Eastern Theater Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) takes part in military exercises in the waters around Taiwan on August 9, 2022 [Eastern Theater Command/Handout via Reuters]

But China’s Eastern Theater Command announced on Monday that it would extend the drills, focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations. It said maritime patrol aircraft, fighter jets, helicopters and a destroyer practised locating and attacking targets, including submarines, in the waters off Taiwan.

Tuesday’s drills, it said in a statement, focus on joint blockades and resupply logistics. It did not say when the extended exercises will end.

In the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, foreign minister Joseph Wu accused China of using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to prepare for an invasion of the island.

“China has used the drills and its military playbook to prepare for the invasion of Taiwan,” he told reporters, calling the war games a “gross violation” of the territory’s rights.

“After the drills conclude, China may try to routinise its action in an attempt to wreck the long-term status quo across the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

Such moves threatened regional security and provided “a clear image of China’s geostrategic ambitions beyond Taiwan”, Wu said, urging greater international support to stop China effectively controlling the strait.

The scale and intensity of the Chinese exercises – as well as its decision to cut some communication with the US – has prompted concern in Washington, but US President Joe Biden has said he does not expect an escalation.

“I’m not worried, but I’m concerned they’re moving as much as they are. But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more than they are,” Biden told reporters at Dover Air Force Base on Monday.

A senior Pentagon official also told Reuters that Washington was sticking to an earlier assessment that Beijing would not try to invade Taiwan in the next two years. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said the US military would continue to carry out voyages through the Taiwan Strait in the coming weeks.

China, meanwhile, has defended its behaviour as “firm, forceful and appropriate”.

“[We] are only issuing a warning to the perpetrators,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing, promising China would “firmly smash the Taiwan authorities’ illusion of gaining independence through the US”.

“We urge the US to do some earnest reflection, and immediately correct its mistakes.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies