China has begun two days of military exercises around Taiwan

Taiwanese helicopters
Taiwan Helicopters / EPA-EFE / RITCHIE B. TONGO

China has launched two days of military exercises around Taiwan as punishment for what it called separatist acts of holding elections and the inauguration of a new president. Chinese state media has claimed that dozens of People's Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes with warhead missiles carried out mock strikes on "high-value military targets", operating alongside the navy and missile forces.

Propaganda photos released by state media also mention China's Dongfeng land-based ballistic missiles, but do not say whether they were used. In response to the drills, Taiwan accused China of "irrational provocation and disruption of regional peace and stability."

Taiwan's defense ministry said its navy, air force and ground forces had been put on alert, base security had been beefed up, and air defense and missile forces had been ordered to monitor possible targets.

The drills are China's first significant response to this week's inauguration of Lai Ching-te as Taiwan's fifth president, after winning democratic elections in January. Both Lai and his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen are from the pro-sovereign Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which Beijing considers separatist.

Chinese state media announced this morning that the exercises, codenamed Joint Sword-2024A, will involve units of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Missile Forces operating in the Taiwan Strait. The units will also operate around the islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wukiu and Dongying, which are close to the Chinese mainland.

People's Liberation Army spokesman Li Xi said the drills "will serve as a strong punishment for the separatist actions of the 'Taiwan independence' forces and a stern warning against interference and provocation by outside forces."

"The current military exercise not only does not help peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, but also highlights the hegemonic nature of the Chinese Communist Party," Taiwan's Ministry of Defense responded.

Analysts say the exercise's name, with the suffix "2024A," suggests more exercises targeting Taiwan can be expected this year.

"This looks like a prelude to new and bigger military exercises to come." This is a signal to shape international narratives. "The real 'punishment' against Taiwan may be yet to come, as it takes time," said Wen-ti Sung, a political analyst and China expert at the Australian National University.

Beijing claims Taiwan is a Chinese province and has vowed to annex it, if necessary by force. Taiwan's government and people overwhelmingly reject potential annexation, and Taiwan's leaders have vowed to increase deterrence and strengthen defenses, while calling on China to end its threats and return to dialogue.

In recent years, China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan, with increased air force incursions into its air defense identification zone, economic coercion and cognitive warfare designed to persuade Taiwan to accept a Chinese takeover without war.

Maps of the exercise area released this morning showed drills operating in similar areas as in 2022, when China surrounded Taiwan with live-fire drills in response to a visit to Taipei by then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In 2023, China again organized large-scale exercises in response to a meeting in the United States between President Tsai and US President Kevin McCarthy. These exercises escalated the tactics shown in 2022, simulating a blockade of Taiwan and pre-invasion attacks.

On Tuesday, China's Taiwan Affairs Office released undefined "countermeasures" to Lai's inaugural speech. The deputy commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Lieutenant General Stephen Sklenka, told reporters in Canberra that China's threats should be taken seriously, but an attack or invasion was not imminent or imminent.

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