Chinese planes cross the median line of the Taiwan Strait as an angry China begins exercises

A Chinese military helicopter flies past tourists at a viewpoint over the Taiwan Strait on Pingtan Island, the closest to Taiwan, in China’s southeastern Fujian province.

Greg Baker | Afp | Good pictures

42 Chinese warplanes crossed the critical transit line of the Taiwan Strait on Saturday as China began exercises around Taiwan, angering President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with the speaker of the US House of Representatives.

The three-day drills, announced the day after Tsai’s return from the United States, were widely expected after China condemned Wednesday’s meeting with Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles.

China considers the democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and has never abandoned the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan’s government strongly objected to China’s claim.

Beijing’s announcement also came hours after a visit by senior European leaders to China.

The People’s Liberation Army said it had begun combat readiness patrols and “joint sword” drills around Taiwan, which it had previously said would be conducted “as planned” in the Taiwan Strait and north, south and east of Taiwan.

“This is a serious warning against the collusion and provocation of Taiwan independence separatist forces and external forces, and is a necessary step to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command said in a statement.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Saturday morning it had spotted 42 Chinese fighter jets – J-10s, J-11s and J-16s – crossing the demarcation line, which normally serves as an unofficial offensive between the two sides, as well as eight Chinese ships.

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China is using Tsai’s visit to the US “as a pretext to carry out military exercises, which has seriously damaged regional peace, stability and security,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The military will respond in a calm, rational and serious manner, and will stand guard and monitor in accordance with the principles of ‘no escalation or dispute’ to protect national sovereignty and national security.”

China threatened unspecified retaliation if a meeting with McCarthy – second in line after the US president – took place. Beijing staged war games around Taiwan in August, including live-fire missile launches, after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.

A senior Taiwanese official familiar with defense planning in the region told Reuters that unlike when ships from both navies engaged in a standoff in August, the ships had already returned, while the aircraft crossed the median line.

The situation was “as expected” and manageable, and the Taiwanese government was rehearsing various scenarios for its response, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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Reuters reporters in the coastal area near Fuzhou, opposite the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands, saw a Chinese warship shelling a training area off China’s coast, part of drills announced by China late on Friday.

Tsai, who lunched Saturday with a delegation of visiting US lawmakers led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, said he looked forward to strengthening security cooperation with the United States.

“I want to reiterate that the people of Taiwan want democracy and seek peace,” he said, not directly referring to the exercises in comments before television cameras.

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Tsai repeatedly offered to negotiate with China, but was rejected because the government considered him a separatist. He says only the people of Taiwan can decide their future.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary on Saturday that “the government has the strong ability to crush any form of Taiwan independence secession.”

“All countermeasures taken by the Chinese government belong to China’s legitimate and legal right to protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.

Unlike in August, China has not yet announced whether it will hold missile drills. When China announced the previous drills, it released a map showing which areas of the sea near Taiwan it would be firing on.

China usually conducts military exercises in April, security sources said.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan attends an event with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on April 5, 2023 in Simi Valley, California.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Good pictures

Taiwanese officials had expected a less severe reaction to the McCarthy meeting, which took place in the United States, but they said they could not rule out the possibility that China would still hold exercises.

China’s announcement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron left China, where he met with President Xi Jinping and other senior leaders. Macron urged Beijing to talk sensitively with Russia about the war in Ukraine.

European Union President Ursula von der Leyen said stability in the Taiwan Strait was paramount when she met Xi in China this week.

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Expecting China to compromise with Taiwan is “wishful thinking,” according to a Chinese official meeting.

China’s defense ministry, as well as taking notice of the drills around Taiwan, showed pictures of Xi meeting Macron and von der Leyen on its homepage.

A Taiwanese defense source said China’s latest efforts to woo foreign leaders after the announcement of the drills were futile.

“Once the drills were announced in the Straits, all those efforts disappeared overnight and became a wasted effort.”

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