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China's Military Drills Around Taiwan: What Is Happening And Why Now?

24.05.2024 13:12

China has launched largest military drills around Taiwan since August 2022 Beijing says drills are ‘strong punishment for the separatist acts of Taiwan independence forces’ Taiwan urges China to 'exercise self restraint and stop undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and beyond'

Tensions in the Taiwan Strait have escalated as China has launched its biggest military drill in the region since August 2022.

People's Liberation Army (PLA) Thursday announced the launch of two-day joint military drills code-named Joint Sword-2024A around Taiwan, involving Chinese personnel and weaponry from the army, navy, air force, and rocket force.

Chinese Coast Guard is also part of the joint drills for "law enforcement" east of Taiwan.

The drills encompass the Taiwan Strait, as well as the northern, southern, and eastern regions of the Taiwan Island, along with surrounding areas, including Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin islands.

PLA dubbed the drills as "strong punishment for the separatist acts of Taiwan independence forces and a stern warning against interference and provocation by external forces."

What has happened so far?

By Friday morning, the island nation's Defense Ministry said it detected 49 Chinese military planes and 19 Chinese vessels around Taiwan.

At least 35 of the Chinese aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait and entered Taiwan's southwestern air defense identification zone (ADIZ), according to the ministry.

China neither recognizes the median line nor the ADIZ.

Early Thursday, Taipei had detected one aircraft, eight Chinese naval vessels, and four vessels belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard operating around Taiwan.

However, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said it did not detect any signs of live-fire activities by the Chinese military.

Who said what?

Soon after Chinese planes and naval vessels moved around the island nation, the newly-inaugurated President William Lai Cheng-te visited troops at a military base in northern Taiwan.

"We will work together … to demonstrate a determination to protect democratic Taiwan," Lai told the Taiwanese soldiers.

It was the first such large-scale exercise by the Chinese military since Lai was inaugurated this week on Monday.

Beijing despises Lai and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Taiwan for "pro-independence" elements.

China considers Taiwan as its part but Taipei has maintained its independence since 1949.

Without naming anyone, Lai said Taiwan was facing "external threats" but "we will continue to defend the value of freedom and democracy and protect regional peace and stability."

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry doubled down on its claim on Taiwan and said: "Anyone seeking 'Taiwan independence' will find themselves crushed by the historic trend of China's complete reunification."

"Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory… Taiwan independence is doomed to fail," the ministry stressed.

It triggered a call for "restraint from Taipei, which accused Beijing of escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

"We'll continue to safeguard the cross-strait status quo and firmly uphold our democracy," Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said, urging China to "exercise self-restraint and stop undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and beyond."

Past escalations

The latest two-day drills are the largest since August 2022 when then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid an unannounced trip to the island nation.

The PLA had launched joint military exercises around Taiwan, against what Beijing described as "foreign interference in its internal affairs."

China also fired at least five ballistic missiles towards Taiwan which fell within Japan's exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan, according to Tokyo.

It was also the first time that a ballistic missile belonging to the Chinese military had landed "within" Japanese waters, triggering diplomatic protest by Tokyo against Beijing.

Pelosi was the first sitting US House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, against which China launched a "series of targeted military operations."

PLA's targeted military operations were to "counter (Nancy) Pelosi's visit to Taiwan island, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity," China's Defense Ministry had said.

Why is this happening now?

Chien-Yu Shih, an associate research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, said Chinese military exercises around Taiwan were "actually unnecessary."

The military exercises are "full of symbolic implications, aiming at satisfying a kind of Chinese nationalist sentiments," Chien-Yu told Anadolu from Taipei.

He said Beijing "clearly knows that Taiwan will not change the status quo unilaterally at present."

While calling for dialogue with China, President Lai, however, said that Taipei was "not subordinate" to Beijing.

Lai "just implicitly expressed his stance on what the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, but he did not touch upon the one-China principle," said the expert, adding the new president had "left room for dialogue with Beijing."

The ongoing drill simply shows that Beijing is not ready for dialogue with new the Taiwan administration, he said.

"But for now, it seems Beijing is unwilling to talk about it," Chien-Yu added.

Einar Tangen, a senior Chinese commentator, told Anadolu that Beijing sees Lai's inaugural speech as a "provocation aimed at the mainland (China)."

"It is an effort to position himself and his independence movement as underdogs in an international dispute," Einar explained.

"Hampered by a minority in the Legislative Yuan and the support of only 40% of those who voted in the last election, he (Lai) has few alternatives," said Einar.

Lai was elected in January to succeed Tsai Ing-wen but he secured just a little over 40% of the total vote and his DPP also lost majority in the legislature.

While China has launched military operations around Taiwan, Lai is also facing an empowered opposition led by Kuomintang and the Taiwan People's Party, who proposed bills aimed at increasing scrutiny concerning executive agencies and officials.

Lai "wants to increase tensions with the mainland in an effort to provoke a reaction by Beijing that garners popular support and more patronage from the US," said Einar.

However, Einar said the US "mistakes" of using military force and/or sanctions countless times, have only triggered "popular counter-reactions," like in Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and Russia as well as from China.

"Lai and his party have used the 'cry wolf' playbook to win presidential elections. With few options left, this will be his only card," said the Beijing-based analyst.

"But, at some point, the people will tire of the boy who keeps crying 'wolf', but can't run an economy," he concluded. -

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