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China ends Taiwan war games aimed at 'sealing off' island

China ends Taiwan war games aimed at 'sealing off' island
April 11, 2023 Web Desk

Pingtan, China (AFP) - China said it had "successfully completed" three days of war games around Taiwan on Monday, capping a show of force that saw it simulate targeted strikes and practise a blockade of the self-ruled island.

Beijing's exercises were a response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week, an encounter it had warned would provoke strong countermeasures. After three days of exercises, the Chinese military said it had "successfully completed" tasks related to its "Joint Sword" drills.

The operations "comprehensively tested the integrated joint combat ability of multiple military branches under actual combat conditions", the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Eastern Command said. The command said in its statement that troops were "ready for battle and can fight at any time, and will resolutely smash any form of 'Taiwan independence' separatism and foreign interference attempts".

The war games saw Beijing simulate targeted strikes on Taiwan and encirclement of the island, including "sealing" it off, and state media reported dozens of planes had practised an "aerial blockade". One of China's two aircraft carriers, the Shandong, also participated in the exercises, the military said.

Tensions 'high' 

The United States, which had repeatedly called for China to show restraint, on Monday sent the USS Milius guided-missile destroyer through contested parts of the South China Sea. "This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea," the US Navy said in a statement.

The Milius deployment triggered condemnation from China, which said the vessel had "illegally intruded" into its territorial waters. Separately, Beijing warned that Taiwanese independence and cross-strait peace were "mutually exclusive", blaming Taipei and unnamed "foreign forces" supporting it for the tensions.

The White House made clear that relations with Beijing were rocky following the drills. "Tensions are certainly high right now," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, adding that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was working to get "back on a plane over to Beijing" and that China was discussing possible visits by other US officials.

The State Department instead announced Monday that Blinken would visit Vietnam, a China neighbor, this week to "discuss our shared vision of a connected, prosperous, peaceful and resilient Indo-Pacific region". After the drills, Taiwan's foreign ministry condemned China for undermining regional "peace and stability".

The island's defence ministry said it had detected 12 Chinese warships and 91 aircraft around Taiwan Monday. During the exercises, J15 fighter jets from China's Shandong aircraft carrier were deployed, among 54 aircraft that crossed the median line, it added.

Chinese ally Russia defended the drills, with a Kremlin spokesperson saying Beijing had a "sovereign right" to respond to what Moscow called "provocative acts". 

'No war' 

On Beigan island, part of Taiwan's Matsu archipelago within sight of China's mainland, 60-year-old chef Lin Ke-qiang told AFP he did not want war. "We, common people, just want to live peaceful and stable lives," Lin said, adding Taiwan's military was no match for China's.

"If any war happens, now that their missiles are so advanced, there's no way our side could resist. This side will be levelled to the ground." China and Taiwan split following a civil war in 1949. China views the democratic island as part of its territory and has vowed to take it one day.

The United States has been deliberately ambiguous on whether it would defend Taiwan militarily. But for decades it has sold weapons to Taipei to help ensure its self-defence and offered political support. Tsai met McCarthy outside Los Angeles on her way home from Central America.

Last August, China deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest show of force in years following a trip to the island by McCarthy's predecessor, Nancy Pelosi. Tsai's meeting with McCarthy in California, rather than in Taiwan, was viewed as a compromise, underscoring support for the island while avoiding angering Beijing.

But China had repeatedly warned against any meeting, and began the latest war games soon after Tsai returned to Taiwan. Tsai responded by pledging to work with "the US and other like-minded countries" in the face of "continued authoritarian expansionism".

Monday's exercises were expected to include live-fire drills off China's Fujian province, about 80 kilometres south of the Matsu islands, maritime authorities said Saturday. A video published Monday to the Chinese Eastern Theatre Command's official WeChat account showed a pilot saying he had "arrived near the northern part of Taiwan Island", with missiles "locked into place".