Chinese authorities announced Friday that they will hold three-day military exercises “to the north, east, south and west of the island of Taiwan and airspace service” in response to Taiwanese President Tsai’s visit to the United States. The Americans also carried out a destructive mission in the South China Sea today. While the United States claims the mission falls under international naval law, authorities in Beijing say the activity took place within Chinese territorial waters, making it an illegal action.
Taiwan reported that 71 aircraft (fighter jets and bombers) and nine warships had been sighted. Half of those planes crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait. It is the unofficial maritime border between China and Taiwan.
Taiwan is used to this kind of provocation from China, so daily life seems to be unaffected by the exercises. Large-scale exercises were also held last August after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.
This time it was the other way around. Tsai traveled to Belize and Guatemala, two countries that officially recognize Taiwan, and made a brief visit to the United States on the way there and back. He also met with the current Speaker of the House, Republican Kevin McCarthy.
China’s military bending began a day after Tsai’s return to the island. Military maneuvers are accompanied by a propaganda campaign. In a short animated video on China’s WeChat, the Chinese military showed what would go up in smoke in Taiwan if China actually launched an attack. In a state-affiliated newspaper, a military researcher wrote which infrastructure would “knock out China in one fell swoop” in the event of an attack.
Facing the Chinese ships, the Taiwanese ships also gathered around the center line, engaging in a kind of competition to see who can’t blink the longest. Furthermore, no provocative acts took place between those ships.
China views Taiwan as a rogue province and wants to bring the island under Communist Party rule. It reacts strongly to any country establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The United States does not officially recognize Taiwan, but has vowed to protect the country against a Chinese attack. This makes reciprocal visits between high-ranking US and Taiwanese officials sensitive.
The meeting between Tsai and McCarthy no longer took place in Taiwan, like the meeting with Pelosi last year, to avoid an escalation. Despite this, China responds with exercises. They are of another order. Last year, missiles were fired and landed in Taiwanese waters. That is not the case now.
China and the United States also clashed last month over the same destroyer now on a mission. The last time it happened in the Paracel Islands, an archipelago between Vietnam and the Philippines. Even then, the Americans thought they had the right to sail there, while China spoke of a provocation.
Before that, there were already other tensions. For example, a Chinese spy balloon was seen over the United States. While Chinese authorities said a weather balloon had gone astray, senior US government officials confirmed that information about US military bases was being passed directly to China.