China has launched live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, in a show of force following its latest warning to Taipei against seeking independence or official ties with the United States.
The drills started on Wednesday, marking the first of their kind in the waterway since 2016.
The exercises come as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is making an official visit to the small African nation of Swaziland — one of only 20 nations across the globe that recognize Taiwan as an independent state, not Chinese territory.
Most countries adhere to the policy of “One China,” recognizing Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.
According to the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Liu Jieyi, the maneuvers are “an action to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our motherland.”
Before her departure for Swaziland on Tuesday, Tsai said Taiwan had “the confidence and determination to safeguard the country’s security.”
Beijing’s relations with Taipei have noticeably strained since Tsai rose to power in May 2016, mainly due to her refusal to embrace the position that Taiwan and China are part of a single country.
Addressing Tsai’s position on the issue, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned on March 20 that, “All acts and tricks to separate the country are doomed to fail.” Later that day, China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning sailed through the Taiwan Strait.
“The mainland must create military pressure to let the other side know that no matter whether it happens gradually or they really declare independence, it is totally unacceptable,” said Song Zhongping, a military commentator for Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, as quoted in an AFP report.
Song, who previously lectured at China’s People’s Liberation Army University, added that the Liaoning will likely take part in today’s military drill as it “has a lot of advantages for resolving the Taiwan problem.”
“It can effectively acquire control of the airspace, and even effectively block the US-Japanese alliance’s strategy for intervening in China’s plan to settle the Taiwan issue,” he said.
The exercises may further serve as a signal to Washington, which dispatched an aircraft carrier through the disputed South China Sea last week.
The US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but has kept trade ties with the island and remains its top supplier of weapons. The US President Donald Trump administration, in particular, has several times angered China over matters related to Taiwan. Last month, Trump signed new rules that would allow senior US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa.