Asia Politics

China begins second day of military drills; Taiwan say it's monitoring missiles

Two Chinese military helicopters fly past a PLA Navy tugboat, as seen from Pingtan island, the closest point to Taiwan, in China's southeast Fujian province on April 7, 2023. The U.S. says it's closely  monitoring China's drills around Taiwan after Beijing began three days of military exercises around the island.
Greg Baker | AFP | Getty Images

China began a second day of drills around Taiwan on Sunday as the island's defence ministry reported multiple air force sorties and said it was monitoring the movement of China's missile forces, as the United States said it was watching too.

China, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, began three days of military exercises around the island on Saturday, the day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen returned from a brief visit to the United States.

While a security source told Reuters most of Saturday's activities ended by sundown, Taiwan's defense ministry said they had resumed on Sunday and the island's military had spotted multiple aircraft including Su-30 and J-11 fighters, as well as ships.

"Regarding the movements of the Chinese communists' Rocket Force, the nation's military also has a close grasp through the joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system, and air defense forces remain on high alert," the ministry said.

The People's Liberation Army's Rocket Force is in charge of China's land-based missile system.

Last August, following a visit to Taipei by then U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, China staged war games around Taiwan including firing missiles into waters close to the island, though it has yet to announce similar drills this time.

While in Los Angeles last week, on what was officially billed a transit on her way back from Central America, Tsai met the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, despite Beijing's warnings against it.

The de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan said on Sunday that the United States was monitoring China's drills around Taiwan closely and is "comfortable and confident" it has sufficient resources and capabilities regionally to ensure peace and stability.

U.S. channels of communication with China remain open and the United States had consistently urged restraint and no change to the status quo, said a spokesperson for the American Institute in Taiwan, which serves as an embassy in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

Taiwan supporters hold signs during a rally in front of the Westin Bonaventure hotel where Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will spend the night ahead of meeting with Kevin McCarthy, in Los Angeles, April 4, 2023.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979 but is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

China, which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control, says Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in its relations with the United States, and the topic is a frequent source of tensions.

Beijing considers Tsai a separatist and has rebuffed her repeated calls for talks. Tsai says only Taiwan's people can decide their future.

Chinese fighters and warships

China has over the past three years or so stepped up its military pressure against Taiwan, flying regular missions around Taiwan, though not in its territorial air space or over the island itself.

Taiwan's defense ministry said early on Sunday that in the previous 24 hours it had spotted 71 Chinese air force aircraft and nine navy vessels around Taiwan.

The ministry published a map showing around half of those aircraft, including Su-30s and J-11s, crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which has for years served as an unofficial barrier between the two sides.

The ministry had indicated late on Saturday that all 71 aircraft had crossed the line, but clarified the number on Sunday with the map, showing where the crossings were made and by how many aircraft.

Chinese state media said the aircraft are armed with live weapons. Taiwanese air force jets also typically carry live weapons when they scramble to see off Chinese incursions.

Late on Saturday, Taiwan's Ocean Affairs Council, which runs the Coast Guard, put out footage on its YouTube channel showing one of its ships shadowing a Chinese warship, though did not give an exact location.

"You are seriously harming regional peace, stability and security. Please immediately turn around and leave. If you continue to proceed we will take expulsion measures," a Coast Guard officer says by radio to the Chinese ship.

Other footage showed a Taiwanese warship, the Di Hua, accompanying the Coast Guard ship in what the Coast Guard officer calls a "standoff" with the Chinese warship.

Still, civilian flights around Taiwan, including to Kinmen and Matsu, two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands right next to the Chinese coast, have continued as normal.

In August, civilian air traffic was disrupted after China announced effective no-fly zones in several blocks close to Taiwan where it was firing missiles.

Taiwan has been seeking to restart exchanges paused during the Covid-19 pandemic to show goodwill to Beijing, including permitting flights to resume to a large number of Chinese cities, but Beijing has complained Taipei is being too slow.

The People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary that peace, development, exchanges and cooperation were the "common aspiration" of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

"Compatriots on both sides of the strait have the same roots and the same culture. They are a family whose blood is thicker than water. Both benefit from peace, both win from cooperation," it said.