China held a second day of military manoeuvres around Taiwan on Sunday in retaliation against President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with senior US lawmakers including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
The People’s Liberation Army said units simulated precision strikes on key targets in Taiwan and the waters around it. An animated video released by the Eastern Theatre Command, which is leading the drills, showed mocked-up images of missiles being launched from the ground, ships and aircraft. The video also depicted what appeared to be the capital, Taipei, and Kaohsiung, the country’s third-largest city, exploding in flames.
According to Taiwan’s defence ministry, 70 Chinese military aircraft were observed operating in the area around the island on Sunday, 35 of which crossed the unofficial Taiwan Strait median line or entered the country’s air defence identification zone.
The manoeuvres, which the PLA has said are to run through Monday, began after Tsai returned late on Friday from a 10-day trip that culminated in talks with McCarthy, the most senior elected US official to meet a Taiwanese president on American soil.
“This is a serious warning against the provocations of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists in collusion with foreign forces, and a necessary action to defend the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Chinese military’s Eastern Theatre Command said.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said Beijing had “already severely damaged regional peace, stability and security” with the military drills, which came as Tsai and senior US lawmakers reaffirmed their determination to continue to engage in the face of Chinese hostility.
“We will continue to co-operate with the US and like-minded countries to defend the values of democracy and freedom,” Tsai told a visiting delegation from the House foreign affairs committee on Saturday.
Michael McCaul, the committee chair, pledged US training for Taiwan’s military — a rare public acknowledgment of such activities. Criticising what he said were Beijing’s “acts of aggression against your nation”, McCaul added: “I look forward to a great future together, our two nations, one of peace and prosperity. We stand with Taiwan.”
An editorial published in the PLA Daily, the Chinese military’s newspaper, on Saturday railed against the US exchanges with Tsai, saying: “‘Using Taiwan to contain China’ is a typical tactic of US politicians who engage in political speculation.”
The PLA Eastern Command said it had mobilised task forces including long-range weapons from the army, destroyers, missile cruisers, fighter jets, bombers, electronic warfare aircraft and long-range missile units to “create an all-round deterrence posture”.
While the manoeuvres heightened the scale of Beijing’s response, Taiwanese government officials said it remained below the level of military intimidation that followed then-US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August last year.
China unleashed week-long manoeuvres after Pelosi’s departure that involved simulating a blockade and invasion of the country and firing missiles over Taiwan’s airspace — the most provocative and risky element of the war games, which was absent from Saturday’s drills.
In fear of repeating that episode, Tsai’s administration handled her tour — two transits through the US that bookended visits to diplomatic allies in Central America — with extreme caution. The meeting with McCarthy in California was arranged as an alternative to one in Taiwan, which Taipei was concerned might have triggered more severe punitive measures.
Beijing’s timing of the drills may have been influenced by political considerations. Tsai’s stopover in California coincided with French president Emmanuel Macron and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to China, while Beijing was also hosting Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, in an effort to court Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang ahead of presidential elections next January.