China, which claims it owns the democratically governed island, says the military exercises are designed to protect its “sovereignty.”
China has stepped up its activities in the Taiwan Strait region, but provided few details about the exercises that began in the area on Friday.
Taiwan said it had to launch fighter jets to track the approaching Chinese planes, which also crossed the sensitive middle line of the Taiwan Strait, as tensions escalated when a senior United States diplomat visited the self-governing island, sparking Beijing’s ire.
This comes after China’s Defense Ministry announced earlier Friday that it is conducting military exercises near the Taiwan Strait, adding that the exercises were conducted in response to the “current situation” and were aimed at protecting China’s “national sovereignty”.
Beijing claims that Taiwan belongs to it, and it has been alarmed by the growing willingness of the United States to resist China’s attempts to isolate the democratically governed island. Last week, there were two days of massive air and naval exercises.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said 18 Chinese aircraft were deployed on Friday, far more than Taiwan previously announced for such clashes.
“ROCAF flew fighters and deployed an air defense system to monitor the action,” the Taiwanese Air Force said in a statement in English on Twitter.
The ministry showed a map of the Chinese planes’ flight routes and their crossing of the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, through which warplanes of both sides usually avoid passage.
Taiwan’s Liberty Times reported that the Taiwanese Air Force took off 17 times in four hours on Friday morning, warning the Chinese Air Force to stay away. It also showed the loading of missiles into an F-16 aircraft at Hualien Air Force Base on Taiwan’s east coast.
“There is intense military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait, which is exacerbating tensions,” Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride said in a report from Seoul, South Korea.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang gave some additional details about the live-fire exercises, which he said began in the Taiwan Strait on Friday and in which the Eastern Command of the People’s Liberation Army’s Theater of War took part.
“This is a prudent and necessary action to address the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said, adding that Taiwan is China’s internal affair.
“Recently, the United States and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have intensified their collusion, often creating unrest,” Ren said, referring to Taiwan’s ruling party.
When Health Secretary Alex Azar visited the island last month, Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the middle line of the Taiwan Strait.
Keith Crach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, arrived in Taiwan on Thursday and is due to attend a dinner with President Tsai Yingwen on Friday night. On Saturday, he will also attend a memorial service for former Taiwan President Lee Teng Hui.
Crach is the most senior State Department official to visit Taiwan in 40 years.
His visit was promptly condemned by China, which refuses any recognition of Taiwan and pursues a multi-year policy of marginalizing the island in the diplomatic arena, which has intensified since Tsai first took office in 2016 deadline in a decisive election in January.
‘Bully without the law’
In announcing the trip, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the visit was “commemorating President Lee’s legacy” and highlighted “shared political and economic values.”
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said Krach, accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State Robert Destro, will also discuss “how to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation” during his three-day visit.
He described him as the most senior State Department official to have visited Taiwan since 1979, when Washington gave Beijing diplomatic recognition from Taipei.
The United States, like most countries, only has formal diplomatic relations with China, but it is Taiwan’s main arms supplier and the most important international sponsor.
Meanwhile, a senior US diplomat for East Asia said that China’s recent actions around the world were not the actions of a responsible global player, but a “lawless bully.”
In prepared testimony for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, David Stilwell said that the United States is not asking other countries to choose a side, but opposing China’s “malicious” behavior and defending its sovereignty and economic interests.
At the same time, Stilwell said that US competition with China should not necessarily lead to conflict, and that the US sought to cooperate with Beijing where interests coincide, for example, on North Korea.
Stillwell said that there have been “particularly egregious examples of Beijing’s behavior in the past few months.”
These include violence on the border with India and “aggressive” actions in the South China Sea, around Taiwan and in the waters, disputes between China and Japan.