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Beijing launches surprise ‘punishment’ drills encircling Chinese Taipei

This screenshot of undated video footage released on May 23, 2024 shows a Chinese military ship in an unknown location, following china’s recent military drill. (Photo by AFP)

Beijing has launched a two-day military drill in the waters and airspace around the self-governing island of Chinese Taipei, as “punishment” for what it called the “separatist acts” of holding an election and inaugurating a new president.

The Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started the drills on Thursday early morning in the Taiwan Strait, the north, south and east of the self-ruled island, as well as areas around the islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin.

The drills are the first substantive response from China to swearing-in of Taiwan President Lai Ching-te on Monday, after he won the election in January. Both Lai and his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, are from the pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive party (DPP), which Beijing considers to be separatists.

In Lai’s first address to the public after taking his oath, he said that “the Republic of China, Taiwan, is a sovereign and independent nation with sovereignty resting in the people” and stressed that his government would make no concessions on its democracy and freedoms.

Dozens of fighter jets armed with live missiles were part of the mock strikes, code-named Joint Sword-2024A that targeted high-value military assets, such as ships and warplanes, Chinese military Eastern Theater Command spokesperson Naval Colonel Li Xi told CCTV.

Li called the drills a “strong punishment” for “separatist acts,” adding that the exercises are "a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces," Xinhua reported.

China's military said its drills focus on joint sea-air combat-readiness patrols, precision strikes on key targets, and integrated operations inside and outside the island to test the "joint real combat capabilities" of its forces.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Defense in the self-ruled island has condemned China's military exercises around the self-ruled island, adding that Taipei has dispatched naval, air, and ground forces to “defend the [island's] sovereignty.”

The ministry said it had placed its military on “high alert” in response to China’s drills, which it described as “irrational provocations and actions that disrupt regional peace and stability.”

Moreover, China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) issued a statement on Wednesday, firmly stating its stance against any form of “Taiwan independence’ separatist activities” and vowed to take action against the DPP authorities for collaborating with external forces in their pursuit of independence.

China has stepped up military activities around the island ever since Tsai Ing-wen was elected for her first term as president in 2016. It has often taken more aggressive measures during meetings between Taiwanese officials and US politicians, a crucial ally of Taiwan, and initiated an unprecedented set of military exercises after a visit by former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August 2022.

Mainland China reportedly aims to reunify Chinese Taipei by 2027, a timeframe that will fall in Lai’s term in office. China has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei and almost the entirety of the global community recognize that sovereignty under the internationally recognized “One China” policy. It means states would not establish diplomatic contact with the secessionist government in Taipei.

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