China launches drills around Taiwan after island’s new leader takes office
(China's Eastern Theater Command)

China launches drills around Taiwan after island’s new leader takes office

China on Thursday launched a two-day military exercise surrounding Taiwan that it described as a “powerful punishment” for the island’s independence.

The drills, dubbed Joint Sword 2024A, include components from China’s army, navy, air force and rocket force, China’s Eastern Theater Command said Thursday in a series of posts to the Weibo social media website.

The training includes sea and air combat patrols, battlefield control and “joint precision attack” drills, a post said. The exercise effectively surrounds Taiwan, according to imagery shared by the command on Weibo. The drills began at 7:45 a.m., according to the state-sponsored Xinhua News Agency.

“This is also a powerful punishment for the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces seeking ‘independence’ and a serious warning to external forces for interference and provocation,” command spokesman Col. Li Xi said in one of the social media posts.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense condemned the exercise Thursday afternoon and said China’s actions jeopardized regional peace and stability.

“We seek no conflicts, but we will not shy away from one to ensure our nation’s safety and protect our beautiful homeland,” the ministry wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The ministry regularly posts 12-hour updates on the number of Chinese aircraft and warships operating near Taiwan but had released no details of activity around the island as of Thursday afternoon.

The drills come just three days after Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, was sworn into office. Lai, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party, pledged to continue the direction set by his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen.

Beijing looks at Lai as a separatist, according to a report Monday by Japanese public broadcaster NHK. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin critiqued the congratulations U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave upon Lai’s inauguration Monday.

“ ‘Taiwan independence’ leads nowhere and anyone who connives at and supports ‘Taiwan independence’ is doomed to failure,” Wang was quoted as saying Monday in remarks posted on the Foreign Ministry website.

China views Taiwan, a self-governing island, to be a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Lai in his inaugural speech called on China to “cease its political and military intimidation against Taiwan,” according to a translation posted by Taiwan’s presidential office. He also asked China to “share with Taiwan the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as the greater region, and ensure the world is free from the fear of war.”

The exercises are clearly meant to send a message to Lai and are consistent with “the coercive diplomacy Beijing has exercised toward Taiwan” in the past, said Jeffrey Kingston, a professor of history and Asian studies at Temple University.

Tsai “stood up to Beijing’s bullying, and it wants to discourage such behavior,” he told Stars and Stripes by email Thursday. China reacted similarly when Tsai visited California to meet with former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in April 2023.

Beijing launched a three-day exercise, also called Joint Sword, around the island. Last year’s drills were on par with Chinese exercises in response to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in 2022, with five days of exercises that included missile launches, aircraft sorties and naval drills.