China began three days of military exercises around Taiwan on Saturday to express anger at Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as the island’s defence ministry said it would respond calmly.
The drills, announced the day after Tsai returned from the United States, had been widely expected after China condemned the meeting with Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles.
China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan’s government strongly objects to China’s claims.
Beijing’s announcement also came just hours after China hosted a visit by senior European leaders.
The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said it had started the combat readiness patrols and “Joint Sword” exercises around Taiwan, having said earlier it would be holding them in the Taiwan Strait and to the north, south and east of Taiwan “as planned”.
“This is a serious warning to the Taiwan independence separatist forces and external forces’ collusion and provocation, and it is a necessary action to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said in a short statement.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it was monitoring the situation, maintaining a high degree of vigilance and would respond appropriately to defend the island’s security.
China was using Tsai’s U.S. visit “as an excuse to carry out military exercises, which has seriously damaged regional peace, stability and security”, the ministry said in a statement.
“The military will respond with a calm, rational and serious attitude, and will stand guard and monitor in accordance with the principles of ‘not escalating nor disputes’ to defend national sovereignty and national security.”
A senior Taiwan official familiar with security planning in the region told Reuters that China was likely to increase its air and sea patrols in an attempt to “harass” Taiwan’s air defence zone and “squeeze” closer to the Taiwan Strait’s median line, which normally serves as an unofficial barrier between the two.
The situation was “as expected” and manageable, and Taiwan’s government has rehearsed various scenarios for its response, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
The ministry said earlier on Saturday that in the previous 24 hours it had spotted four Chinese aircraft in Taiwan’s air defence zone, not an unusual number.
Reuters reporters in a seaside area near Fuzhou, which sits opposite the Taiwan-controlled Matsu islands, saw a Chinese warship firing shells onto a drill area on China’s coast, part of drills announced by China late on Friday.
Tsai will meet visiting U.S. lawmaker delegation, led by Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, later on Saturday.
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary on Saturday that the government has “a strong ability to thwart any form of Taiwan independence secession”.
“All countermeasures taken by the Chinese government belong to China’s legitimate and legal right to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.
Tsai has repeatedly offered talks with China but has been rebuffed as the government views her as a separatist. She says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
China had threatened unspecified retaliation if the meeting with McCarthy – second in line to succeed the U.S. president, after the vice president – were to take place. Beijing staged war games around Taiwan, including live-fire missile launches, in August after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.
However, unlike in August, China has yet to announce whether it will also stage missile drills. In the previous instance, China published a map at the time it announced the drills, showing which maritime areas near Taiwan it would be firing into.
Taiwanese officials had expected a less severe reaction to the McCarthy meeting, given it took place in the United States, but they had said they could not rule out the possibility of China staging more drills.
China’s announcement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron left China, where he met President Xi Jinping and other senior leaders. Macron urged Beijing to talk sense to Russia over the war in Ukraine.
European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen, also in China this week to meet Xi, said stability in the Taiwan Strait was of paramount importance.
Xi responded by saying that expecting China to compromise on Taiwan was “wishful thinking”, according to China’s official reading of the meeting.
China’s defence ministry, as well as carrying the announcement of the drills around Taiwan, showed pictures on its home page of Xi meeting Macron and von der Leyen.
The Taiwan security source said China’s recent efforts to charm foreign leaders were in vain after the announcement of the drills.
“Upon the announcement of drills in the strait, all those efforts have vanished overnight and become a wasted effort.”