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China Launches Major Naval Drill to "Punish" Taiwan's New President

Exercise areas around Taiwan and outlying islands (PLA Eastern Theater Command)
Exercise areas around Taiwan and outlying islands (PLA Eastern Theater Command)

Published May 23, 2024 9:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

In response to the election of a pro-independence president in Taiwan, China has launched a series of large-scale naval exercises "to serve as a strong punishment for the separatist acts of 'Taiwan independence' forces" and a "serious warning to external forces" like the United States. According to Western analysts, the exercises also give China a way to practice taking control of the waterways around the island, in case its leaders ever decide to set up a blockade or pursue reunification by force. 

Last month, 40 percent of Taiwan's voters selected DPP candidate Lai Ching-te - a self-described proponent of Taiwanese independence - in a three-way race. The other two candidates, Hou Yu-ih and Ko Wen-je, both emphasized peaceful and stable relations with China; they lost with 33 and 26 percent of the vote (respectively). 

In his inaugural address this week, Lai called for dialogue, peace and stability in relations with Beijing, and he offered to resume cross-strait tourism and student exchanges with mainland China (two small-scale diplomatic concessions). But he also promised to defend Taiwanese democracy and asserted that "the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other," drawing condemnation from Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of the PRC. 

"Our will to resolve the Taiwan question and achieve national reunification is rock-solid, our ability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity is indestructible, and our actions against 'Taiwan independence' secession and foreign interference are resolute and strong," responded Chen Binhua, spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office. "We will never tolerate or condone any form of secessionist acts of 'Taiwan independence.'"

In response, the PLA Eastern Theater Command mobilized its forces for a joint exercise surrounding Taiwan, "focusing on joint sea and air combat readiness patrols, joint seizure of battlefield comprehensive control, joint precision attack on key targets and other subjects." Taiwan's defense ministry counted 15 PLA Navy warships, 16 China Coast Guard cutters and 42 PLA military aircraft near Taiwan and its outlying islands. 

China has conducted mass drills in response to Taiwanese political events before, including a far larger exercise in 2022, following the visit of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taipei.

This time, the China Coast Guard dispatched cutters to within a few miles of Taiwanese-held Wuqiu and Dongyin islands, the first time that the CCG has come within the Taiwanese-claimed boundaries of these outlying territories, according to Chinese officials. 

Other aspects of the drills were oriented towards a high-end conflict, including mock land-attack strikes involving multiple Chinese destroyers, amphibious assault drills, and practice fighter-bomber runs. "The PLA has a complete arsenal available to resolve the Taiwan question if prospects for peaceful reunification no longer exist," warned Chinese state-owned outlet Global Times.