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China launches military drills surrounding Taiwan

Taiwanese air force Mirage 2000 fighter jets wait for take off at a base in Hsinchu in northern Taiwan on Thursday.
YASUYOSHI CHIBA
/
AFP via Getty Images
Taiwanese air force Mirage 2000 fighter jets wait for take off at a base in Hsinchu in northern Taiwan on Thursday.

China has launched military drills surrounding Taiwan the week the democratic Asian island inaugurated a new president who called on China in his inaugural address to “cease its political and military intimidation” of Taiwan.

China’s eastern theater command says the air force, navy, and infantry will be involved in the war games, which will last until Friday. China’s state media outlet said the drills were a show of force intended to “serve as a strong punishment for the separatist acts of Taiwan independence forces” – a veiled reference to Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te, who China has called a “dangerous separatist.”

Taiwan said it had dispatched air and naval forces to monitor the drills, which its defense ministry called an “irrational provocation” that “highlights [China’s] hegemonic nature.”

Taiwan’s national security council had been warning as early as March that they expected China to launch war games following Taiwan’s inauguration. The summer and early fall is when China typically does its military rehearsals, and Beijing has mounted military rehearsals shortly before or after Taiwan's previous two inaugurations.

But the timing and the scale of the drills, which last until Friday, is a grim reminder that China wants control over self-ruled Taiwan and has not ruled out an outright invasion to make that happen.

China first launchedmilitary drills that surrounded all sides of Taiwan and its smaller, outlying islands in the summer of 2022, after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, much to China’s ire. Since then, China has dramatically increasedregularized military intimidation around Taiwan, including near-daily air and sea patrols.

A survey released this month from the Washington D.C.-based think tank Brookings Institute found in 2023, 64.8% of respondents reported they were worried about a war between China and Taiwan, up 7.4 percentage points from 2021.

In response to Chinese military aggression, Lai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, helmed by his predecessor, former president Tsai Ing-wen, have initiated military reforms and increased military spending, measures that they argue will deter a Chinese invasion from happening by making the cost of war too high. Last year, they also extended conscription for young men to one year (up from four months) and allowed women in its reservist forces.

Lai, the son of a coal-miner who trained as a doctor before entering politics, has been dogged by comments he made in 2017, when he was Taiwan’s premier, in which he said he was a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan's independence.”

His inaugural speech did not stray from an unofficial “status quo” that keeps Taiwan’s sovereign status ambiguous, a status most people in Taiwan support over declaring the island’s formal independence. Most countries in the world, including the United States, do not recognize Taiwan as a country, a vestige of an ongoing rivalry between the governments of China and Taiwan, stemming from a civil war last century.

But Lai did assert that “the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China are not subordinate to each other,” referring to Taiwan and China respectively – a position that China sees as a violation ofits principle that Taiwan is part of its territory.

China’s top government office on Taiwan affairs slammed Lai’s speech this week, saying it sent “sent a dangerous signal" of seeking Taiwan independence.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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