China launched military drills around Taiwan on Saturday, calling it a “stern warning” to the self-ruled island’s government following a meeting between its president and the US House speaker. The three-day United Sharp Sword operation, which includes rehearsing an encirclement of Taiwan, will run until Monday, the People’s Liberation Army said in a statement. China will send planes, ships and personnel into the maritime areas and airspace of the Taiwan Strait, off the northern and southern coasts of the island, and to the island’s east. The move sparked condemnation from Taipei and calls for restraint from Washington, which said it was “monitoring Beijing’s actions closely.”
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen denounced the drills, which came after she met with the US House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, in California. She pledged to work with “the US and other like-minded countries” in the face of “continued authoritarian expansionism.” In Washington, a State Department spokesperson said the US had “consistently urged restraint and no change to the status quo,” but noted it had ample resources to fulfil its security commitments in Asia.
Taiwan’s defence ministry released a video showing soldiers loading anti-aircraft missile launchers, fighter jets taking off, and other military preparedness exercises. The footage included surveillance of China’s Shandong aircraft carrier, which sailed through waters south of Taiwan earlier this week. The 75-second clip, which included English subtitles, ended with a caption saying: “We seek neither escalation nor conflict, but we remain steadfast, rational, and serious to react and defend our territory and sovereignty.”
China views democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to seize it one day, by force if necessary. The drills also follow the departure from Beijing of the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and EU chief, Ursula von der Leyen, who were in China to urge Xi Jinping to help bring an end to the war in Ukraine.
China deployed warships, missiles, and fighter jets around Taiwan last August in its largest show of force in years, after a trip to the island by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi. McCarthy, who is second in line to the US presidency, had originally planned to go to Taiwan himself. The decision to meet in California instead was viewed as a compromise that would underscore support for Taiwan but avoid inflaming tensions with Beijing.
“I am the speaker of the House. There is no place that China is going to tell me where I can go or who I can speak to,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter. There were no immediate signs on Saturday of heightened military activity on the south-eastern Chinese island of Pingtan, the country’s closest point to Taiwan.
The drills underlined Beijing’s “nationalist credentials to its domestic audience and score political points at home,” said James Char, a research fellow in the China programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore.
China’s military commentator Song Zhongping said the exercises were intended to demonstrate that the Chinese army would be ready, if “provocation intensifies,” to “solve the Taiwan issue once and for all.” The United States has been ambiguous on whether it would militarily defend Taiwan, although for decades it has sold weapons to Taipei to help its self-defense.
“The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] deliberately created tension in the Taiwan Strait, which… has a negative impact on the security and economic development of the international community,” the defence ministry said.