China punishes Taiwan with alarming encirclement meant to "kill independence"

Taipei, Taiwan - China on Thursday encircled Taiwan with naval vessels and military aircraft in war games aimed at punishing the self-ruled island for "separatist acts."

Chinese ships and warplanes surrounded Taiwan on Thursday as punishment over what it called "separatist acts."
Chinese ships and warplanes surrounded Taiwan on Thursday as punishment over what it called "separatist acts."  © Greg BAKER / AFP

The two days of drills are part of an escalating campaign of intimidation by China that has seen it carry out a series of large-scale military exercises around Taiwan in recent years.

The latest show of force is a "strong punishment for the separatist acts of 'Taiwan independence' forces," China's military said as the drills got underway.

Thursday and Friday's drills involve aircraft and ships surrounding the island to test their combat capabilities, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) said.

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Taiwan responded by deploying air, ground and sea forces, with the island's defense ministry vowing to "defend freedom." A presidential spokesperson also condemned China's "provocative military behavior."

China touts "cross-strait lethality"

Taiwan President Lai Ching-te inspected a military base on Thursday.
Taiwan President Lai Ching-te inspected a military base on Thursday.  © Sam Yeh / AFP

The drills come after Lai Ching-te was sworn in as Taiwan's new president this week and made an inauguration speech that China denounced as a "confession of independence."

"In face of the many threats and attempts of infiltration from China, we must demonstrate our resolution to defend our nation," Lai said in his speech, while hailing a "glorious" era of democracy.

China warned of strong reprisals to Lai's speech, in which he also vowed to continue building Taiwan's defense capabilities.

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It had previously branded Lai a "dangerous separatist" who would bring "war and decline" to the island.

China's military put out a series of posters touting what it called its "cross-strait lethality". They featured rockets, jets and naval vessels next to blood-stained text.

"The weapon aimed at 'Taiwan independence' to kill 'independence' is already in place," it declared.

Chinese military exercises increasingly frequent

The last time China announced similar military exercises around Taiwan was in August last year after Lai, then vice president, stopped over in US on a visit to Paraguay.

Those drills also tested the PLA's ability "to seize control of air and sea spaces" and fight "in real combat conditions," according to state media.

They followed April 2023 drills that simulated the encirclement of the island, launched after Lai's predecessor Tsai Ing-wen met then-US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.

China also launched major military exercises in 2022 after Nancy Pelosi, then House speaker, visited Taiwan.

Cover photo: Greg BAKER / AFP

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