Taiwan vows to ’defend freedom’ amid China’s ’punishment’ military drills: Here is what is happening now

“Dozens of warplanes, multiple destroyers and frigates” of the PLA were spotted encircling Taiwan and its outlying islands. The drills began Thursday morning. In response, the Taiwanese army reportedlty transported Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) supersonic anti-ship missiles to the coast.

Written By Akriti Anand
Updated23 May 2024
This screenshot of undated video footage released on May 23, 2024 on Chinese social media platform Weibo by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) shows a Chinese military ship in an unknown location.
This screenshot of undated video footage released on May 23, 2024 on Chinese social media platform Weibo by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) shows a Chinese military ship in an unknown location. (AFP)

Taiwan has again caught the world's attention, with China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) launching "punishment" military drills around the island country. The Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese PLA launched a two-day joint military drill – on Thursday and Friday. It's code-named the Joint Sword-2024A exercise.

"Dozens of warplanes, multiple destroyers and frigates" of the PLA were spotted encircling Taiwan and its outlying islands. The drills began Thursday morning.

"The drills are being conducted in the Taiwan Straits, the north, south and east of Taiwan island, as well as areas around the islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin," China state media Global Times reported.

It also shared a picture showing the locations where the PLA conducted Joint Sword-2024A exercises on Thursday.

This is not the first time China has conducted military drills around Taiwan. The Xi-Jinping-led country has conducted intense military exercises around the island almost daily over the past four years. It last staged large-scale war games near the island in 2023 and 2022.

In August 2022, China launched large-scale and unprecedented live-fire military exercises around Taiwan after former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.

What triggered China's 'punishment' military drills?

China's move to launch new military drills signifies its displeasure with Taiwan's new President Lai Ching-te. For the unversed, China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary. Taiwan is currently a self-ruled island.

The drills came three days after Lai Ching-te was sworn in as Taiwan's new president and made an inauguration speech that China denounced as a "confession of independence".

A Chinese fighter jet in an unknown location

Lai, dubbed by China as a "dangerous separatist" who would bring "war and decline" to the island, had hailed a "glorious" era for Taiwan's democracy in his inaugural speech. He had also urged China to stop its threats, saying the two sides of the strait were "not subordinate to each other", Reuters reported.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Lai "disgraceful".

Following this, the Chinese state media cited a spokesperson for the PLA's theater command as saying that the latest set of 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".

As the drills got underway, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was quoted by AFP as saying, “Taiwan independence forces will be left with their heads broken and blood flowing after colliding against the great...trend of China achieving complete unification.”

Two people ride a motorcycle as a Taiwanese Air Force Mirage 2000 fighter jet approaches for landing at an air force base in Hsinchu in northern Taiwan on May 23, 2024.

How Taiwan responded

Taiwan responded by deploying air, ground and sea forces, with the island's defence ministry vowing to "defend freedom". According to Nexta news, the Taiwanese army transported Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) supersonic anti-ship missiles to the coast in response to China's drills.

President Lai said he would "stand on the front line" to defend Taiwan in a speech on Thursday afternoon, without directly referring to the ongoing drills. "Faced with external challenges and threats, we will continue to defend the values of freedom and democracy, and safeguard peace and stability in the region," he said.

News agency AFP shared a video of his speech on X:

"The launch of military exercises on this occasion not only does not contribute to the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, it also highlights (China's) militaristic mentality," the Taiwan's defence ministry said.

Why China conducts drills around Taiwan

China believes Taiwan to be a part of it and propagates "One-China Policy". The policy states that "there is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China".

The Chinese government rejects any idea of “Taiwan independence” separatism, “two Chinas” and “one China, one Taiwan".

During former US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visit to Taiwan in 2022, China had said any visit by Pelosi would "seriously undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity". The US had then reiterated that it remains committed to its One-China policy. It was after this that China launched heavy military drills around Taiwan.

Now, China's latest military activity around Taiwan is seen as a "show of force" and warning by Beijing, which sees Taiwan as its territory and vows to take it back by force if necessary.

Victor Gao, chair professor at Soochow University in China believe that Lai Ching-te's May 20 speech is a declaration of war because he clearly distinguished China from Taiwan and completely destroyed the one-China principle.

"China wants to show that if Lai still wants to take the path of Taiwan independence... it can make Taiwan collapse without a war within a week or two, which will deal a fatal blow to the people of Taiwan...," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Meanwhile, Collin Koh, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said, "The drill is not meant to accomplish anything more than warn the just-inaugurated Lai administration that they are more than ready to react, and to deter any moves towards so-called Taiwan independence.

Here's more about Chinese drills around Taiwan

The drills, dubbed "Joint Sword - 2024A", are set to run for two days. The latest drills are unlike a similar "Joint Sword" exercise in April last year. These drills are tagged "A", opening the door to potential follow-ups, report said.

"The drills focus on joint sea-air combat-readiness patrols, precision strikes on key targets, and integrated operations inside and outside the island chain to test the "joint real combat capabilities" of the forces," China's military said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's defence ministry said 15 Chinese navy ships, 16 coast guard and 33 aircraft were involved, but no live-fire drills were held in any areas close to Taiwan.

 

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