HONG KONG — Outraged versus being a global power broker: China has had to consider what it looks like for the moment as it conducts military exercises in Taiwan.
The three days of scheduled exercises, which the Chinese military said simulated an air and naval blockade as well as precision strikes against key targets, began on Saturday when Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen returned to Taipei after a transit stop. that included a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles.
China, which claims self-rule for Taiwan as its own territory, had repeatedly warned against a meeting between Tsai and McCarthy, the highest-ranking US official to meet a Taiwanese leader on US soil since Washington switched Taipei’s diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979. sees such official contact as a violation of Washington’s «one China» policy, under which it recognizes Beijing as China’s only legitimate government but maintains unofficial relations with Taipei.
While the exercises were conducted under policies that have governed China’s actions for decades, more recent events have likely tempered its reaction: China last week hosted several top officials from abroad, including French President Emmanuel Macron. Notably, Beijing did not increase its military response until after they left.
Combat readiness patrols, dubbed «Joint Sword», were carried out in three areas in waters around Taiwan and were successfully completed on Monday, the Chinese military said. A Chinese aircraft carrier took part in the patrols for the first time, and the Japanese military released a video of a fighter jet taking off from the deck. Live-fire drills off the Chinese coast will continue until April 20.
Experts say the exercises were smaller in scale and severity than Beijing’s actions last August, when it surrounded Taiwan with unprecedented live-fire military exercises in response to a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. .
China’s show of force this time was tempered by negative global reaction to those military exercises, said J. Michael Cole, senior adviser on countering foreign authoritarian influence at the International Republican Institute.
Beijing is also wary of undermining the image it is trying to cultivate as a moderate alternative to US global dominance, as well as a potential mediator in Ukraine.
“You can’t propose a peace plan in Europe and at the same time launch large-scale military exercises against a neighbor,” said Cole, who is based in Taipei.
He added that an overly aggressive response from Beijing would also risk derailing efforts to repair relations with Washington, which hit a new low in February after the downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon over US soil led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit. to the country.
Taiwan condemned the latest military exercises and said it would firmly defend its sovereignty without escalating the conflict.
«China cannot dictate how our friends internationally would interact with Taiwan,» Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told NBC News in an interview Monday. «And these kinds of interactions have been going on for many, many years.»
The American Institute in Taiwan, which serves as the de facto US embassy, said it was closely monitoring China’s drills and was «comfortable and confident» that there were sufficient resources and capabilities in the region to ensure peace and stability. .
“Our communication channels with the PRC remain open and we have consistently called for restraint and no change to the status quo,” a spokesman said, using the PRC acronym.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin defended the exercises on Monday, saying they were a «stern warning» and a «necessary move to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.»
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said that as of 6 a.m. local time Monday (6 p.m. ET Sunday), it had detected 70 Chinese military aircraft and 11 Chinese military vessels around the island in the past 24 hours, a number similar to that of the previous two days. Half of the planes entered Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone after crossing the median line, an unofficial boundary in the Taiwan Strait that China has been crossing more regularly.
Later Monday morning, the ministry said an additional 59 Chinese military aircraft had been detected near Taiwan between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., with 39 crossing the median line. China’s military spokesman said the drills have shown that Chinese troops are «ready to fight at all times to crush any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ and attempts at foreign interference.»
Although China sends warplanes to Taiwan almost daily, the number tends to increase after events like the McCarthy-Tsai meeting that it considers provocative.
On Monday, a US Navy destroyer sailed near the Spratly Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, in what military officials said was a freedom of navigation operation. China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, said the US ship had entered Chinese waters illegally and had monitored the ship’s transit.
China earlier announced sanctions against the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where McCarthy and Tsai met on Wednesday, and the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank that awarded Tsai an award while she was in New York last month, saying they had provided a platform for promotion. of “separatist” activity.
By comparison, a visit to Taiwan by a bipartisan congressional delegation led by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, received minimal response from Beijing. US lawmakers left Taipei on Saturday after meeting with Tsai.
Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping officially began an unprecedented third term as president in March, he has embarked on a series of diplomatic activities including visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in March and hosting senior Western officials such as Macron. and the President of the European Commission, Úrsula. von der Leyen, who were in Beijing last week.
China postponed its military exercises in Taiwan until after the departures of Macron and von der Leyen, as well as former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who was in China until Friday on a historic 12-day visit.
Also last week, the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia met in Beijing to follow up on a surprise deal China brokered last month to restore diplomatic relations between the two rivals for the first time in seven years.
«The timing of the exercises underscores Beijing’s efforts to balance deterring closer US-Taiwan relations with broader interests in strengthening ties with trading partners and building global diplomatic influence,» he said. Ava Shen, associate covering Taiwan and China foreign policy at Eurasia Group. a consulting firm based in New York.
Courtney Kube reported from Taipei, Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong, and Janis Mackey Frayer reported from Beijing.