China Starts Military Drills as Senior U.S. Official Lands in Taiwan

On Friday, China initiated combat drills near the Taiwan Strait the same day a senior U.S. official started high-level meetings in Taipei, as Beijing denounced stiffening ties between Chinese-claimed Taiwan and the United States.

Signs of Distress

Beijing has observed with surging alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington and has ramped up military exercises near the island, consisting of two days of mass air and sea drills last week.

Ren Guoqiang, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday’s drills, about which he provided no details, were happening near the Taiwan Strait and included the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theatre command.

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.

Taiwan is a completely internal Chinese affair that tolerates no foreign interference, he added.

“Recently the United States and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have stepped up their collusion, frequently creating disturbances,” Ren said, indicating towards Taiwan’s ruling party.

Trying to “use Taiwan to control China” or “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” is wishful thinking and doomed to be a dead-end, he added. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” he said.

Taiwan’s government did not immediately respond to these comments. Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper stated that Taiwan air force jets jostled 17 times on Friday morning over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away.

“Stern Representations”

It also exhibited a picture of an F-16 being loaded with missiles at the Hualien airbase on Taiwan’s east coast. China’s declaration came as U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach started the first full day of his visit to Taiwan in a low-key way, with no open media events on his agenda.

He is supposed to meet President Tsai Ing-wen later in the day, and on Saturday will attend a memorial service for late President Lee Teng-hui.

China had threatened to make a “necessary response” to the trip, straining ties that are already poor between Beijing and both Taipei and Washington. Sino-U.S. relations have plunged before November’s U.S. presidential election.

Last month, Chinese fighter jets shortly crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait as the U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China performed two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

The United States, similar to most countries, only has official ties with China, not Taiwan, though is the island’s major arms supplier and most vital international backer.

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan’s top envoy in New York. China’s U.N. mission stated that it had embedded “stern representations” over the meeting.