PLA’s military drills in the South China Sea have increased in recent months amid growing geopolitical tensions
Two Chinese anti-submarine aircraft violated Taiwan’s airspace, according to a statement by Taiwan’s Defence Ministry on Thursday, September 17.
The aircraft allegedly flew into the Taiwanese air defense identification zone on Wednesday and were warned to retreat by Taiwan’s air force.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said that verbal warnings to leave were given over radio after the two Chinese aircraft were spotted flying around the same air space to its southwest.
The alleged violation of airspace took place a day before the United States Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach was due to arrive in Taiwan amid a growing geopolitical standoff between China and the US.
Krach’s visit to Taiwan at this juncture is likely to further infuriate Beijing, which regularly criticizes the US for providing support to Taiwan and meddling in the bilateral issues between China and the neighboring island.
On September 10, China said that the US envoy’s visit to Taiwan will encourage “separatist forces” on the island.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters “China strongly opposes” Krach’s visit as it will “encourage the arrogant attitude of Taiwan independence separatist forces.”
“Krach’s visit seriously violates the One-China Principle and damages US-China relations and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” Wang said, adding that Beijing will provide “a necessary response.”
On September 14, Wang reiterated, “The US should stop all forms of official exchanges with Taiwan so as to avoid serious damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
The US State Department countered China’s criticism of Krach’s visit by stating that the purpose of his visit to Taipei was to attend a memorial service scheduled for September 19 for late Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui, famously known as the island’s “father of democracy.”
“The United States honors President Lee’s legacy by continuing our strong bonds with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values,” the State Department said on Wednesday while announcing Krach’s trip.
US Health Secretary Alex Azar’s historic visit to Taiwan last month, which was the first trip of a senior US official to Taiwan in four decades, caused resentment in the Chinese administration. His visit aimed at highlighting Taiwan’s widely lauded efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. While Azar was in Taiwan, Chinese air force jets reportedly crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry claimed that Taiwan’s land-based anti-aircraft missiles had tracked the People Liberation Army (PLA) fighters and had “strongly driven them out.”
China – which has for decades followed a policy to deny Taiwan military weaponry or international recognition – considers Taiwan an integral part of its territory, a claim which the US denies as the two largest economies of the world continue to be at loggerheads over a multitude of issues including trade, security and human rights.
The closeness between Washington and Taipei has increased in recent years, especially under the Trump administration. US and Taiwan have signed seven major arms deals worth US$13.3 billion since 2017.
China’s escalated military activity around Taiwan in the South China Sea
In recent months, China has increased military activity in the air and waters near Taiwan, which Taipei claims to be part of Beijing’s expansionist desires in the region and a strategy to intimidate them into accepting Chinese sovereignty.
China’s PLA on August 23 announced that it would launch concentrated military drills in the South China Sea off the southeast coast of South China’s Guangdong Province from August 24 to 29. It followed PLA’s earlier announcement that it would conduct consecutive drills in the Taiwan Straits and at its north and south ends to deter who it refers to as “Taiwan secessionists.”
“Pressing the island of Taiwan from both the north and south ends, the simultaneous exercises in the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea will demonstrate the PLA’s high level of combat preparedness,” China’s state-run Global Times quoted Chinese military experts on August 23.
Over the past two months, the PLA has reportedly conducted more than 30 maritime exercises in four regions including the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea.
As per Global Times, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, at a press conference in August, said that the PLA drills in the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea were annually arranged and not targeted at any country but stressed that PLA’s exercises along the Taiwan Straits were targeted at “external interference.”
Last week, Taiwan claimed that China held military drills for two days off its southwest coast, between Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
PLA’s drills, which it calls “necessary action” aimed at protecting its sovereignty, come at a time when tensions have escalated in the South China Sea over China’s territorial disputes with several countries including Vietnam and the Philippines.
China’s military exercises and claims in the South China Sea have garnered rebuke even from some of its allies.
“The Malaysian government considers China’s claims over maritime features in the South China Sea to have no basis whatsoever under international law,” the Malaysian Foreign Minister said on August 13, in a rare denouncement of its largest trading partner.
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