China launches 'punishment' war games around Taiwan

China launches 'punishment' war games around Taiwan

BEIJING/TAIPEI--China launched "punishment" drills around Taiwan on Thursday in what it said was a response to "separatist acts", sending up heavily armed warplanes and staging mock attacks as state media denounced newly inaugurated President Lai Ching-te.

The exercises in the Taiwan Strait and around groups of Taiwan-controlled islands beside the Chinese coast come just three days after Lai took office. China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and denounces Lai as a "separatist", decried his inauguration speech on Monday, in which he urged Beijing to stop its threats and said the two sides of the strait were "not subordinate to each other". On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Lai "disgraceful". Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but has been rebuffed. He says only Taiwan's people can decide their future, and rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims. The Eastern Theatre Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) said it had started joint military drills, involving the army, navy, air force and rocket force, in areas around Taiwan at 7:45 a.m. The drills are being held in the Taiwan Strait, the north, south and east of Taiwan, as well as areas around the Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, the command said in a statement, the first time China's exercises have included areas round these islands. State media said China sent out dozens of fighter jets carrying live missiles, and conducted mock strikes, along with warships, of high-value military targets. Taiwan's defence ministry said 15 Chinese navy ships, 16 coast guard and 33 aircraft were involved, but no live fire drills were held in any areas close to Taiwan. The drills, dubbed "Joint Sword - 2024A", are set to run for two days. However, unlike a similar "Joint Sword" exercise in April last year, these drills are tagged "A", opening the door to potential follow-ups. Taiwan's defence ministry said it had sent forces to areas around the island, with its air defences and land-based missile forces tracking targets. It said it was confident it could protect its territory. "The launch of military exercises on this occasion not only does not contribute to the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, it also highlights (China's) militaristic mentality," the ministry said. The U.S. State and Defense departments put out identical statements strongly urging Beijing to act with restraint and saying it should not use Taiwan's political transition as a pretext or excuse for provocative or coercive measures. "(China's) actions risk escalation and erode longstanding norms that have maintained regional peace and stability for decades," they said. Analysts, regional diplomats and senior Taiwan officials noted that so far the operations around Taiwan are smaller than the those China staged to protest at the August 2022 visit to Taipei of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Then China staged live-fire drills as part of exercises that ran for days and were denounced by the U.S. as "extreme, disproportionate and escalatory."

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