China’s military launched joint air and sea patrols around Taiwan this weekend as leaders from the United States, South Korea and Japan wrapped up a landmark summit at Camp David aimed at shoring up their alliances.
“The patrols and exercises are meant to train the coordination of military vessels and airplanes and their ability to seize control of air and sea spaces,” said Shi Yi, spokesperson for the Eastern Theater Command, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Shi said the exercises would test the Chinese military’s “ability to fight in real combat conditions.”
“The patrols and exercises serve as a stern warning to the collusion of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists with foreign elements and their provocations,” Shi added.
China’s ruling Communist Party claims the self-governing, democratic island of Taiwan as its territory, despite never having controlled it. It has vowed to take control of the island, by force if necessary.
The patrols come a week after China’s foreign minister condemned Taiwan’s vice president and presidential candidate William Lai as a “troublemaker through and through” for passing through the US en route to Paraguay – Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. China sees trips to the US by Taiwan’s leaders as undermining its claims to sovereignty over the island.
The military drills also come as US President Joe Biden hosts the leaders of South Korea and Japan for a historic trilateral summit that has been undergirded by the three countries’ mutual concern over China.
Meeting at Camp David on Friday, the three leaders agreed to deepen military and economic cooperation and condemned Beijing’s “dangerous and aggressive behavior” in the South China Sea.
On Saturday, after China announced the drills around Taiwan, the defense ministry in Taipei condemned Beijing for what it said was “irrational and provocative behavior.”
The ministry said it would dispatch troops in response “to defend the freedom of democracy and the sovereignty” of Taiwan.
“Launching a military exercise under such pretext not only doesn’t help the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, but also highlights (China’s) militaristic mentality and reinstates the domineering nature of military expansion,” the ministry said.
China has stepped up military pressure on Taiwan in recent months, sending warplanes and warships toward it on an increasingly regular basis.
Incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, a self-declared buffer zone beyond its territorial airspace, take place almost daily.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said the Chinese Communist Party was damaging regional security with this continued “harassment.”
It added that in the face of “repeated advances” by China’s army, “all officers and soldiers of the national army are ready to fight, uphold the strong will of ‘preparing for war, not seeking war, responding to war, not avoiding war,’ and have the ability, determination, and confidence to ensure national security.”
On Tuesday, China’s defense minister Li Shangfu warned against “playing with fire” when it comes to Taiwan in a veiled jab at the United States when he addressed a security conference in Russia.
While the US has no formal ties with Taiwan, it is one of its strongest international backers and weapons suppliers.