Taiwan alerts fighter jets and puts missile, naval and land units on high alert for Chinese military exercises

Taiwan on Thursday alerted fighter jets and put missile, naval and land units on alert for Chinese military drills around the self-ruled island, where a new president took office this week.

The Chinese military said its two-day drills around Taiwan were punishment for separatist forces seeking independence. Beijing claims Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, and the People’s Liberation Army sends naval ships and fighter jets into the Taiwan Strait and other areas around the island almost daily to wear down Taiwan’s defenses and intimidate a population that strongly supports its de facto independence.

China’s “irrational provocation endangers peace and stability in the region,” Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. It said Taipei would not seek conflict, but “would not shy away from it either.”

“This pretext for conducting military exercises not only does not contribute to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, but also shows its hegemonic nature at its core,” the statement said.

In his inaugural speech on Monday, Taiwan’s President William Lai called on Beijing to stop its military intimidation and promised “neither to give in nor to provoke” the mainland’s Communist Party leadership.

The president, also known as Lai Ching-te, said he was seeking dialogue with Beijing while maintaining Taiwan’s current status and avoiding conflicts involving the island’s key ally, the United States, and other regional partners such as Japan and Australia could include.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command said the land, naval and air exercises around Taiwan are intended to test the army units’ naval and air capabilities as well as their joint strike capabilities to hit targets and gain control of the battlefield.

“This is also a severe punishment for the separatist forces seeking ‘independence’ and a serious warning to external forces for interference and provocation,” the statement on social media site Weibo said.

The Chinese army released a map of the planned training area, which surrounds Taiwan’s main island at five points and other locations including the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen and Matsu island groups near the Chinese coast.

The Chinese Coast Guard also said in a statement that it had organized a fleet to conduct law enforcement exercises near two islands near Kinmen and Matsu.

While China described the exercises as punishment for Taiwan’s election results, the pro-democracy Democratic Progressive Party has now led the island’s government for more than a decade, even though the pro-Chinese Nationalist Party won a one-seat majority in parliament.

Speaking in Australia, the deputy commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, US Navy Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka, called on countries in the Asia-Pacific region to condemn the Chinese military exercises.

“It’s no surprise that every time there is an action that highlights Taiwan in the international sphere, the Chinese feel compelled to make some sort of statement,” Sklenka told the National Press Club of Australia in the capital Canberra Alluding to Monday’s presidential inauguration.

“Just because we expect this behavior doesn’t mean we shouldn’t condemn it, and we must publicly condemn it. And it has to come from us, but I think it also has to come from the nations in the region. It’s one thing for the United States to condemn the Chinese, but I think it has a far greater impact when it comes from nations in this region,” Sklenka added.

Japan’s top envoy made the remarks during his visit to the United States, saying Japan and Taiwan share values ​​and principles, including freedom, democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law.

Taiwan “is our extremely important partner with whom we have close economic ties and people-to-people exchanges, and it is our valuable friend,” Secretary of State Yoko Kamikawa told reporters in Washington, where she held talks with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

She said she and Blinken discussed Taiwan and the importance of keeping the Taiwan Strait, one of the world’s most important waterways for shipping, peaceful.

Bodeen is an Associated Press writer. AP reporters Rod McGuirk in Melbourne and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.