China military rehearses ‘encircling’ Taiwan after US Speaker visit

China has started three days of military exercises around Taiwan after the island’s president met the US House Speaker in defiance of repeated threats by Beijing.

The exercises, dubbed “United Sharp Sword,” have been denounced by Taiwan. China sees Taiwan as its own territory and has not ruled out using force to bring it under its control.

The Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command announced the drills Saturday, describing them as “a serious warning against the Taiwan separatist forces’ collusion with external forces, and a necessary move to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“The task force simultaneously organized patrols around the island to create an all-round encirclement and deterrent situation,” the Eastern Theater Command said.

Soon after the announcement by China, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had detected a total of 42 Chinese warplanes over the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from the Chinese mainland. It said 29 Chinese warplanes had crossed the median line in the strait into its air defense identification zone. It added that eight PLA vessels had been spotted in the strait.

The drills come a day after Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen returned from a 10-day visit to Central America and the United States where she met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Beijing had repeatedly warned against the trip and had previously threatened to take “strong and resolute measures” if it went ahead.

China claims the self-governing democracy of Taiwan despite never having ruled it, and has spent decades trying to isolate it diplomatically.

Incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, a self-declared buffer zone beyond its territorial airspace, occur on an almost daily basis.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Saturday it was closely monitoring the situation and would make every effort to defend national security and sovereignty.

“The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is deliberately creating tensions on the Taiwan Strait. Besides damaging peace and stability, it also creates negative impact on regional safety and development,” the ministry said.

The ministry had said earlier on Saturday it would respond to the drills in a calm, rational and serious way, and not seek to escalate conflict.

China reacted in a similar fashion when then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, launching a series of military drills that surrounded the island and firing missiles over it.

Those drills were the first time China had fired missiles over the island, and many experts saw them as representing a major escalation of China’s military intimidation against Taiwan.

Some of those missiles also fell into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone near Japanese islands to the north of Taiwan, a move which heightened tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.


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