TAIPEI – Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has condemned China’s military drills in the Taiwan Strait, saying Tuesday that China did not demonstrate the “responsible” behavior of a major Asian nation.
China's three-day, large-scale drills that ended Monday were retaliation for Tsai's meeting with United States House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California last week on her tour of Taiwan's official and unofficial allies.
“As the president, I represent our country in the world, whether it’s a visit to allied countries or stopping through in the U.S. and interacting with our international friends, and not only has this been going on for years, it’s the Taiwanese people’s shared expectation,” Tsai said in a statement. “But China used this as a pretext to start military drills, creating instability in the Taiwan Strait and region. This is not the attitude of a responsible major nation in this region."
China sees such meetings as encouraging Taiwanese voters and politicians who support formal independence for the island, a step China’s ruling Communist Party says would lead to war.
The sides split in 1949 after a civil war, and the government says the island is obliged to rejoin the mainland, by force if necessary. China does not recognize Taiwan's government institutions, has cut off almost all communication with Tsai's government since shortly after her initial 2016 election and has blocked Taiwan's participation in most international organizations, beginning with the United Nations.
Surveys show a strong majority of Taiwanese back the current state of de facto independence, while Tsai's government says a declaration of formal independence is unnecessary because the island already enjoys the status of a sovereign nation, despite China's attempts to isolate it diplomatically.
China's People's Liberation Army issued a threat as it concluded the exercises. Its troops "can fight at any time to resolutely smash any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ and foreign interference attempts,” the PLA's Eastern Theater Command, responsible for contingencies involving Taiwan, said in a statement.
China's Foreign Ministry backed up that threat Tuesday.
“Again, I would like to stress that China will take resolute strong measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing.
In recent years, China has been increasing its military presence in the Taiwan Strait, with warplanes being sent on a near-daily basis and military drills being conducted in the waters and skies near Taiwan.
In August, after then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, China conducted missile strikes on targets in the seas around Taiwan and sent warships and warplanes over the median line of the Taiwan Strait. It also fired missiles over the island itself, which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in a significant escalation.
Despite having only unofficial relations, the U.S. is Taiwan's most important ally and source of military assistance. U.S. law requires Washington to regard all threats to the island — including a blockade — as matters of "grave concern," although it does not explicitly require the commitment of forces.
The exercises this time have focused more on air strength, with Taiwan reporting more than 200 flights by Chinese warplanes. On Monday alone, Taiwan's defense ministry tracked 91 flights by Chinese warplanes.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, citing the PLA, said the exercises simulated sealing off the island and striking important targets in waves.
Tsai also urged the public to not believe any disinformation about Taiwan's defenses, saying the military was fulfilling its duties and the public should encourage the forces. “Our nation's soldiers and national security team will continue to stand fast at their posts to defend our country," she said.
Taiwan's defense ministry said eight Chinese navy vessels were still in the waters surrounding the island as of Tuesday morning.
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