China’s military has conducted “simulated joint precision strikes on key targets in Taiwan” during a second day of drills near the island. The exercises began on Saturday, the day after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen returned from a visit to the US. China claims Taiwan as its own territory. Taiwan’s defence ministry said that it had detected multiple Chinese air force sorties and was monitoring Beijing’s missile forces. As of Sunday midday, it had spotted 58 Chinese aircraft and nine warships around the self-ruled island. China has described the exercises, dubbed United Sharp Sword, as a “serious warning to Taiwan’s independence separatist forces”.
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. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. 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 increased its military pressure against Taiwan, flying regular missions around Taiwan, though not in its territorial air space or over the island itself. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.