BEIJING - China on Tuesday (Aug 9) continued for a sixth day military drills around Taiwan, as the island claimed the exercises were in preparation for an invasion and staged its own drills.
Relations have been tense across the Taiwan Strait and between Beijing and Washington following United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said its military exercises are “open, transparent and professional”, but Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Mrs Pelosi’s visit has been used as a pretext for war games to prepare for a possible invasion of the island.
In a statement early on Tuesday morning, the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it was continuing drills for a sixth day, two days more than the initially announced period, further raising fears that the exercises could be used as cover to permanently change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.
The exercises mainly focused on joint blockade and joint support operations. The air force under the theater command deployed multiple batches of warplanes, including early warning aircraft, fighter jets, aerial refueling aircraft and jamming aircraft, to conduct drills on airspace control operations, air-to-air refueling and air-to-sea support.
Drills were also conducted for joint search and rescue, ammunition and materials supply, equipment repairs, and rescue and transfer of the injured.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said 16 Chinese warplanes crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait. It is a move that the Chinese military has been making since last Wednesday, when Mrs Pelosi was visiting Taipei.
But during a regular press briefing on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China conducts “normal military exercises” in waters surrounding its territory.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that needs to be retaken, by force if necessary.
Beijing has exponentially stepped up this rhetoric in the past fortnight or so after news of Mrs Pelosi’s potential visit broke, a trip it sees as highly provocative and supporting Taiwan’s independence.
“The (military exercises) is a warning to provocateurs and a legitimate move by China to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr Wang said.
He added that Taiwan’s “provocation and lies are like a mayfly shaking a tree, which will only accelerate its self-destruction”.
His comments echoed what Vice-Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu had said earlier in the day during an interview with state broadcaster CGTN.
“China’s countermeasures are a necessary and legitimate response to the provocations by the US and the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces”, said Mr Ma.
“They are just and lawful.”
Shortly after Mrs Pelosi and a congressional delegation landed in Taipei last Tuesday night, China announced that it would be conducting live firing military exercises in six areas surrounding Taiwan from Thursday till Sunday.
The Taiwanese military on Tuesday also began its own drills - simulating a potential invasion - which it said were long scheduled.
It fired howitzer artillery out to sea in the southern county of Pingtung.
Officials in Taipei have said China’s military drills in both air and sea are aimed at changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
“The median line of the Taiwan Strait has kept the status quo in the strait for decades,” Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said at a briefing.
“This fact has been harmed for the past few days due to the Chinese drills, which affect regional peace, stability, and especially Taiwan’s security.”
He added that Beijing looks to extend its control over the East China Sea and South China Sea, on either end of the Taiwan Strait and where China is locked in territorial disputes with regional nations.
China sent more than 120 aircraft across the median line of the Strait from Wednesday till Sunday, to which Taiwan responded by deploying aircraft and vessels, issuing radio warnings and deploying land-based missile systems to monitor the activities.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it detected 39 Chinese warplanes and 13 warships around the island as at 5pm on Monday, with 21 jets having crossed the median line and the island’s south-west air defence identification zone.