Taiwan on Monday said it had detected 12 mainland warships and 91 jets after Beijing concluded three days of military exercises around the island following President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“Although (China’s) Eastern Theatre Command has announced the end of its exercise, the military will never relax its efforts to strengthen its combat readiness,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement.
China had warned of retaliation should Tsai meet with McCarthy, and dozens of fighter jets were sent across the strait less than 24 hours after Tsai returned to Taipei from her U.S. visit.
The exercises have been focused on “testing the ability to seize sea control, air control, and information control,” state media said.
Taiwan’s defense ministry called out Beijing’s military provocation, but added it would not respond to the military exercises with force or counter aggression.
“In recent years the [Chinese Communist Party] has continued to send aircraft and ships to harass the region, threatening the regional situation,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Friday. “It has used president Tsai’s visit to the US as an excuse to conduct military exercises, seriously damaging regional peace, stability and security.”
Room for Disagreement
Despite the increased military presence, many living in Taiwan have pointed out that day-to-day life has not been disrupted by the drills, with civilian flights across the strait continuing throughout the exercises.
“While Taiwan’s military is monitoring the situation closely, there is no panic or sense of imminent doom,” tweeted Taipei-based journalist David Demes. “Many believe China is mostly flexing its muscles to appease the nationalists back home.”
While China has increased military exercises around Taiwan in recent years, the number of planes detected on the first day of the drill was higher than the average, comparable to when former U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi travelled to Taiwan last year, the Guardian reported.
While Beijing's plans are unclear, China watchers have noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping has highlighted the "Taiwan issue" as one of his key priorities for his latest term, asserting that Taiwan must accept Chinese sovereignty.
Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party have rejected those calls, saying it is up to the Taiwanese people to decide their future. Other Taiwanese politicians have been more cautious in their approach, with former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang party recently visiting China in an attempt to show his party was open to more dialogue with Beijing.
The View From Europe
Both French President Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen visited Xi last week in an attempt to bolster EU-China relations.
After his meeting, Macron said it would not be in Europe’s interest to “accelerate” the crisis in Taiwan, adding that “the worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction.”
His remarks were condemned as “ill-judged” by more than 24 European politicians from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), including members of Macron’s own party. The IPAC said that Macron was “undermining the decades-long commitment of the international community to maintaining peace across the Taiwan Strait” and that he does not speak for Europe.
“History is a harsh judge of past efforts to appease authoritarians,” IPAC said. “Unfortunately the president shows little sign of having learned the lessons of the past.”
The View From the US
The de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan said Sunday that the U.S. was monitoring China’s drills around the Taiwan Strait closely, urging China to exercise restraint and make “no change” to the status quo.
A spokesperson from the American Institute in Taiwan, which serves as the territory’s embassy, said that the U.S. is “comfortable and confident” about the resources it has to ensure peace and stability in the region.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that the administration is “monitoring the exercises closely.”
“They appear to be a reaction to something that didn’t need to be reacted to,” he said, referring to Tsai’s stop in the U.S. Kirby reiterated that it is “not uncommon” for Taiwanese presidents to transit through the U.S. and meet with members of Congress.