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May 24, 2024

China Conducts Second Day of Military Drills Near Taiwan Amid Rising Tensions

China Conducts Second Day of Military Drills Near Taiwan Amid Rising Tensions

China’s military embarked on its second day of intensive war games around Taiwan on Friday, focusing on exercises designed to test their capability to “seize power” and control key areas. These drills, described as a punitive measure against Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te, began shortly after his inauguration, escalating tensions between Beijing and Taipei.

The two-day military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and near Taiwan-controlled islands close to the Chinese coast are intended to demonstrate China’s displeasure with Lai’s recent ascension to office. Taiwan has strongly condemned these provocative actions.

China, which regards Taiwan as its own territory, denounces Lai as a “separatist” and took issue with his inaugural speech on Monday. In his address, Lai called on Beijing to cease its threats and acknowledged that the two sides of the strait are “not subordinate to each other.”

The Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) confirmed in a brief statement that its forces continued with the “Joint Sword – 2024A” exercises on Friday. The drills aim to “test the ability to jointly seize power, launch joint attacks, and occupy key areas,” reflecting China’s ongoing assertion that it has not ruled out the use of force to assert control over Taiwan.

In response, Taiwan’s armed forces have been mobilized to monitor and shadow the Chinese military activities closely. On Friday, Taiwan’s defense ministry released images of F-16 fighter jets, equipped with live missiles, patrolling the skies. They also shared photos of Chinese coast guard vessels and Jiangdao-class corvettes participating in the drills, although the exact locations of these images were not disclosed.

President Lai has consistently advocated for dialogue with China, but his overtures have been met with rejection. He maintains that only the people of Taiwan have the right to decide their future, firmly rejecting Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over the island.

Despite the heightened military activity, life in Taiwan remains largely undisturbed. The island is accustomed to China’s periodic military threats, and the recent drills have not caused significant alarm among its residents.

On China’s tightly controlled social media platform Weibo, “Eastern Theatre” was the top trending topic, with a majority of comments expressing support for the drills. Another popular subject was “the return of Taiwan,” reflecting the nationalist sentiment prevalent among Chinese netizens.

The historical context of the conflict dates back to 1949, when the defeated Republic of China government retreated to Taiwan after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists, who established the People’s Republic of China. Today, the Republic of China remains Taiwan’s official name, though it is only diplomatically recognized by a handful of countries, primarily small, developing nations.

In a Friday commentary, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, reiterated the unified belief that China’s territory cannot be divided, the nation cannot be destabilized, and its people cannot be separated. The newspaper argued that the recent actions by the “leader of the Taiwan region” would expedite the “destruction” of pro-independence forces in Taiwan.

China professes a willingness to create “broad space for peaceful reunification” but insists there is no room for “separatist activities” in Taiwan.

Analysts, regional diplomats, and senior Taiwan officials have noted that the current drills are smaller in scale compared to the extensive exercises conducted in 2022. Nonetheless, the maneuvers carry significant risks of accidents or miscalculations. They interpret Beijing’s actions as a carefully measured warning that Chinese forces could swiftly implement a blockade if necessary to pressure Lai and his administration.

As the situation develops, the international community watches closely, aware that any misstep could escalate into a more severe conflict between China and Taiwan, with far-reaching implications for regional stability and global geopolitical dynamics.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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