China’s military declared Monday it is “ready to fight” after completing three days of large-scale combat exercises around Taiwan that simulated sealing off the island in response to the Taiwanese president’s trip to the U.S. last week. The “combat readiness patrols” named Joint Sword were meant as a warning to self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its own, China’s military said earlier.
The exercises were similar to ones conducted by China last August, when it launched missile strikes on targets in the seas around Taiwan in retaliation for then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, but have been smaller and less disruptive. Military experts say the exercises serve both as intimidation and as an opportunity for Chinese troops to practice sealing off Taiwan by blocking sea and air traffic, an important strategic option the Chinese military might pursue in the event it uses military force to take Taiwan.
The Chinese actions follow President Tsai Ing-wen’s delicate mission to shore up Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic alliances in Central America and boost its U.S. support, a trip capped with a sensitive meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. A U.S. congressional delegation also met with Tsai over the weekend in Taiwan after she returned.
China responded immediately to the McCarthy meeting by imposing a travel ban and financial sanctions against those associated with Tsai’s U.S. trip and with increased military activity through the weekend.
Between 6 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday, a total of 70 planes were detected and half crossed the median of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary once tacitly accepted by both sides, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. Among the planes that crossed the median were eight J-16 fighter jets, four J-1 fighters, eight Su-30 fighters, and reconnaissance planes. Taiwan also tracked J-15 fighter jets, which are paired with the Shandong aircraft carrier.
On Monday, the PLA said its Shandong aircraft carrier was taking part in the exercises encircling Taiwan for the first time. It showed a video of a fighter jet taking off the deck of the ship in a post on Weibo, the social media platform.
Beijing says contact between foreign officials and the island’s democratic government encourages Taiwanese who want formal independence, a step China’s ruling Communist Party says would lead to war. The sides split in 1949 after a civil war, and the Communist Party says the island is obliged to rejoin the mainland, by force if necessary.
China’s military harassment of Taiwan has intensified in recent years with planes or ships sent toward the island on a near-daily basis, with the numbers rising in reaction to sensitive activities. The military activity has increased a notch since Pelosi’s visit, with Chinese PLA fighter jets regularly flying over the middle boundary line. Experts say PLA navy vessels regularly navigate the waters off Taiwan’s northeastern coast.
Meanwhile, to the south in the South China Sea, the U.S. 7th Fleet said its missile destroyer USS Milius sailed by Mischief Reef in a freedom of navigation operation. China has built an artificial island on the sea feature to stake its claim to the disputed territory. China said the U.S. “illegally trespassed” into waters near the reef without the permission of the Chinese government, according to a statement from the Chinese military’s southern command.
One of the U.S. representatives who attended the meeting with Tsai last week said Saturday the U.S. must take seriously the threat China poses to Taiwan. Republican Mike Gallagher, chairman of the U.S. House Select Committee on China, told The Associated Press that he plans to lead his committee in working to shore up the island government’s defenses, encouraging Congress to expedite military aid to Taiwan.