China simulated “sealing off” Taiwan during a third day of wargames around the self-ruled island on Monday, as the United States deployed a naval destroyer into Beijing-claimed waters in a show of force.
China launched the exercises in response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week, an encounter it had warned would provoke a furious response.
After two days of exercises that included simulating targeted strikes on Taiwan and encirclement of the island, the Chinese military said the wargames also included “sealing” it off, and a state media report said dozens of planes had practised an “aerial blockade”.
One of China’s two aircraft carriers — the Shandong — also “participated in today’s exercise”, the military added.
The United States, which had repeatedly called for China to show restraint, on Monday sent the USS Milius guided-missile destroyer through contested parts of the South China Sea.
“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea,” the US Navy said in a statement.
It added that the vessel had passed near the Spratly Islands — an archipelago claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. It is about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from Taiwan.
The deployment of the Milius immediately triggered more anger from China, which said the vessel had “illegally intruded” into its territorial waters.
And Beijing warned Monday that Taiwan independence and cross-strait peace were “mutually exclusive”, blaming Taipei and unnamed “foreign forces” supporting it for the tensions.
“If we want to protect peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait we must firmly oppose any form of Taiwan independence separatism,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned.
Meanwhile, Japan said on Monday it had scrambled jets in recent days as Chinese planes landed and took off from the Shandong.
– ‘No war’ –
On Beigan island, part of Taiwan’s Matsu archipelago that is within sight of China’s mainland, 60-year-old chef Lin Ke-qiang told AFP he simply did not want war.
“We, common people, just want to live peaceful and stable lives,” Lin said, adding that Taiwan’s military was no match for China’s.
“If any war happens, now that their missiles are so advanced, there’s no way our side could resist. This side will be levelled to the ground.”
China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949. China views democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to take it one day.
The United States has been deliberately ambiguous on whether it would defend Taiwan militarily.
But for decades it has sold weapons to Taipei to help ensure its self-defence, and offered political support.
Tsai met McCarthy outside Los Angeles on her way home from a visit with two allied countries in Central America.
In August last year, China deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest show of force in years following a trip to the island by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.
Tsai meeting with McCarthy in the United States rather than in Taiwan, was viewed as a compromise that would underscore support for the island but avoid inflaming tensions with Beijing.
But China had repeatedly warned against any meeting, and began the latest wargames soon after Tsai returned to Taiwan.
“These operations serve as a stern warning against the collusion between separatist forces seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and external forces and against their provocative activities,” Shi Yin, a PLA spokesman, said about “Joint Sword”.
Tsai responded to the drills by pledging to work with “the US and other like-minded countries” in the face of “continued authoritarian expansionism”.
– Live-fire exercises –
The exercises on Monday were set to include live-fire drills off the rocky coast of China’s Fujian province, about 80 kilometres south of the Matsu islands and 190 kilometres from Taipei.
The local maritime authority said the exercises would be held between 7:00 am and 8:00 pm around Pingtan, a southeastern island that is China’s nearest point to Taiwan.
AFP journalists on Pingtan did not see any immediate military activity in an offshore area on Monday.
A video published Monday to the Chinese Eastern Theatre Command’s official WeChat account showed a pilot saying he had “arrived near the northern part of Taiwan Island”, with missiles “locked into place”.
In another video with dramatic orchestral accompaniment, an officer’s piercing whistle sends military personnel running into position as a simulated barrage on Taiwan unfolds on screen.