The Chinese military started drills around Taiwan on Saturday (19/8). Beijing said the drills were a “serious warning” to separatist forces, and a response to Vice President William Lai’s visit to the United States (US).
Lai, the leading candidate to become Taiwan’s next president in the election in January, returned from the US on Friday (18/8). He is officially the only stopover to the US en route to and from Paraguay, although he does give speeches while in the country.
China views democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, although Taipei vehemently rejects the claim.
The People’s Liberation Army Forces Crossing East Command, which is in charge of the area around Taiwan, said in a brief statement that it was conducting joint naval and air combat readiness patrols around the island.
They said it was also holding joint naval and air drills and exercises, with a focus on coordinating ships and seizing control, to test the force’s “true combat capability”.
“This (exercise) is a serious warning against Taiwan independence separatist forces colluding with external forces to provoke,” he said.
The Taiwan government did not respond.
Taiwan officials say China is likely to carry out military drills this week near the island. It is suspected that Beijing will use Lai’s US sojourn as a pretext to intimidate voters ahead of next year’s presidential election and make them “fear of war.”
Taiwan Vice President William Lai waves inside Taoyuan International Airport after his trip to the United States and Paraguay, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, August 18, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)
China strongly disliked Lai for his comments calling himself a “practical worker for Taiwan independence”. However, while campaigning Lai vowed to maintain the status quo and repeatedly offered to enter into talks with Beijing.
Shortly before the announcement of the military drills, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Taiwan Work Office said Lai was “shamelessly” trying to “rely on the US to seek independence.”
Lai “stubbornly clings to Taiwan’s independence stance” and his stay in the US is “a disguise he uses to sell Taiwan’s interests to gain advantage in local elections through dishonest actions,” he said.
The US, like most other countries, has no formal relations with Taiwan. But Washington is a staunch supporter of Taipei because it is bound by a law governing the US to supply military equipment to the island as a means of self-defense.
China has over the past three years stepped up military pressure on Taiwan, including sending military aircraft and warships near the island.
In April, China held war games around Taiwan after President Tsai Ing-wen returned from California. At that time, Ing-wen met with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a stopover on his way home from Central America. (ah/ft)