China holds biggest military drills in a year around Taiwan since new President Lai Ching-te elected

A Chinese spokesperson told Xinhua that the drills “serve as a strong punishment for the separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces”.

Bloomberg
First Published23 May 2024
Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te delivering his inaugural speech after being sworn into office during the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei.
Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te delivering his inaugural speech after being sworn into office during the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei.(Photo by Handout / Taiwan Presidential Office / AFP)

China held its most expansive military drills in a year around Taiwan, just days after Lai Ching-te took over as the island’s new president.

The drills on Thursday were intended to “serve as a strong punishment for the separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a military spokesman.

The “external references” line is likely a reference to the US, which is Taiwan’s main military backer. President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the US would defend the democracy of 23 million people if attacked, while China has pledged to bring Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary.

The exercises ramp up pressure on Lai, who took office in the island that makes the bulk of the world’s most advanced chips on Monday. He said in his inaugural address that China should drop its threat of war and that neither side of the strait was subordinate to the other.

China has already signaled its displeasure with Lai taking office, saying his speech “sent a dangerous signal of seeking independence.” It also condemned US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for congratulating Lai, sanctioned a former US congressman who supported Taipei and hit US defense companies with symbolic sanctions. 

China’s military drills add to the complications for the new government in Taipei. Opposition lawmakers are pushing though changes to the law that are aimed at reining in its powers, bringing thousands of people onto the streets of Tuesday night. Those demonstrations are likely to resume on Friday when the legislature takes its next steps forward on the changes.

The Chinese drills were being carried out in the Taiwan Strait; north, south and east of Taiwan; and around the offshore islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, Xinhua said. The exercises would last two days, it added.

While it wasn’t immediately clear how many ships and planes were involved, China’s military has not held exercises in so many locations around Taiwan since April of last year.

The Defense Ministry in Taipei said it was looking into the exercises.

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