China simulates ‘strikes on targets in Taiwan’ as drills continue

Taiwan’s defence ministry says it spotted 58 Chinese aircraft and nine ships around its main island on second day of drills.

Chinese pilot operates an aircraft of the People's Liberation Army
A pilot is photographed operating an aircraft under the Eastern Theater Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) during a combat readiness patrol and exercises around Taiwan, at an undisclosed location in this handout image released on April 8, 2023 [Eastern Theater Command/Handout via Reuters]

China’s military has staged “simulated joint precision strikes on key targets in Taiwan” during a second day of drills launched near the island in the wake of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s brief visit to the United States.

The announcement on Sunday came as Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had detected 11 Chinese warships and 70 aircraft around the island.

The ministry said it was responding to the Chinese drills “in a calm and composed manner”, adding that the warplanes detected until 4 pm local time (08:00 GMT) included a mix of fighter jets and bombers.

China, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, began the three days of military exercises around the island on Saturday, the day after Tsai Ing-wen returned from the US, where she held a meeting with the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy.

Chinese state television reported the combat readiness patrols and drills around Taiwan were continuing.

“Under the unified command of the theatre joint operations command centre, multiple types of units carried out simulated joint precision strikes on key targets on Taiwan island and the surrounding sea areas, and continue to maintain an offensive posture around the island,” it said.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said it was paying particular attention to the People’s Liberation Army’s Rocket Force, which is in charge of China’s land-based missile system.

“Regarding the movements of the Chinese communists’ Rocket Force, the nation’s military also has a close grasp through the joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system, and air defence forces remain on high alert,” the ministry said.

It reiterated that Taiwan’s forces will “not escalate conflicts nor cause disputes” and would respond “appropriately” to China’s drills.

‘Serious warning’

China has described the exercises, dubbed United Sharp Sword, as a “serious warning to Taiwan’s independence separatist forces”, while Taipei condemned Beijing for using Tsai’s US visit as “an excuse to carry out military exercises, which has seriously damaged regional peace, stability and security”.

China had warned Taiwan and the US against the Tsai-McCarthy meeting, which took place on the Taiwanese president’s return leg of a tour of the self-ruled island’s two remaining formal allies in Central America.

She arrived home on Friday.

China also staged extensive war games around Taiwan last year, including firing missiles into waters close to the island, after a visit to Taipei by then Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

The de facto US embassy in Taiwan said on Sunday that it was monitoring China’s latest drills around the island closely and was “comfortable and confident” it had sufficient resources and capabilities regionally to ensure peace and stability.

US channels of communication with China remain open, said a spokesperson for the American Institute in Taiwan, which serves as an embassy in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979 but is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

China, which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control, says Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in its relations with the US, and the topic is a frequent source of tension.

Beijing considers Tsai a separatist and has rebuffed her repeated calls for talks. Tsai says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

China has over the past three years or so stepped up its military pressure against Taiwan, flying regular missions around Taiwan, though not in its territorial air space or over the island itself.

‘Standoff’ with Chinese warships

Taiwan’s defence ministry said earlier on Sunday that in the previous 24 hours it had spotted 71 Chinese air force aircraft and nine navy vessels around Taiwan.

The ministry published a map showing around half of those aircraft, including Su-30s and J-11s, crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which has for years served as an unofficial barrier between the two sides.

Chinese state media said the aircraft were armed with live weapons.

Taiwanese air force jets also typically carry live weapons when they scramble to see off Chinese incursions.

Late on Saturday, Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council, which runs the coastguard, put out footage on its YouTube channel showing one of its ships shadowing a Chinese warship, though did not give an exact location.

“You are seriously harming regional peace, stability and security. Please immediately turn around and leave. If you continue to proceed we will take expulsion measures,” a coastguard officer says by radio to the Chinese ship.

Other footage showed a Taiwanese warship, the Di Hua, accompanying the coastguard ship in what a coastguard officer calls a “standoff” with the Chinese warship.

Still, civilian flights around Taiwan, including to Kinmen and Matsu, two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands beside the Chinese coast, have continued as normal.

In August, civilian air traffic was disrupted after China announced effective no-fly zones in several blocks close to Taiwan where it was firing missiles.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies