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China’s ‘Punishment’ Military Drills Concern Even Taiwan’s Beijing-Friendly Party

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Just days after the inauguration of Taiwan’s new President William Lai Ching-te, of the Beijing-skeptical Democratic Progressive Party, China initiated surprise military drills around the self-governed island it claims as its own.

The People’s Liberation Army described the exercises, which included sending naval ships and warplanes into the Taiwan Strait and launching target strikes on areas surrounding the island, as “a strong punishment for the separatist acts of Taiwan independence forces.”

Taiwan’s government was quick to condemn the show of force, which its defense ministry condemned as “irrational provocations” that “undermine regional peace and stability.”

A resident on Lieyu Township watches the news of China's drills around Taiwan in Kinmen on May 23, 2024.
A resident of Lieyu Township watches news of China’s drills around Taiwan on May 23, 2024.I-Hwa Cheng—AFP/Getty Images

China’s actions also notably drew a response from Taiwan’s more Beijing-friendly Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which urged “the other side of the Taiwan Strait to exercise restraint.”

The party said in a statement that Taiwan’s defense ministry should “respond rigorously” to the exercises and called on the Chinese Communist Party to “stop unnecessary measures, avoid conflicts across the Taiwan Strait, and cherish the results of cross-Strait peaceful development.”

The KMT is widely regarded as pro-China, but it has tried to move away from that image in a bid to win back popular support as the Taiwanese public largely prefers maintaining the status quo more than either outright independence or unification. Hou Yu-ih, the KMT’s presidential nominee who lost to Lai in January, has ruled out talks of unification with China, though former Taiwan President and prominent KMT leader Ma Ying-jeou met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April to promote unification

Beijing has long accused Taiwan’s ruling DPP of stoking tensions in advocating for Taiwan’s independence and has called Lai a “dangerous separatist.” Ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election in January, the Chinese government reportedly embarked on a concerted campaign to sway Taiwanese voters in favor of the KMT; and in the wake of DPP’s election victory, Beijing rebuked countries who congratulated Lai. 

The KMT previously voiced concern about China’s military activities near Taiwan in 2022, when the party’s vice chairman Andrew Hsia traveled to several Chinese cities while Beijing launched a large-scale military exercise to protest then U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. Hsia said he told his Chinese counterparts that the military exercises were threatening cross-Strait relations.

As part of Beijing’s efforts to pressure Taiwan over its longstanding sovereignty dispute, Chinese military activities near Taiwan have been a regular occurrence, typically scheduled around sensitive political events—including Pelosi’s 2022 trip and former Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the U.S. in 2023.

A map from the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Command shows the regions around Taiwan where it plans to conduct large-scale military exercises. The text reads, “Schematic diagram of the Joint 2024-A exercise area.”
A map shared by the PLA on Thursday shows the regions around Taiwan where it plans to conduct large-scale military exercises. The text reads, “Schematic diagram of the Joint 2024-A exercise area.” Eastern Theater Command/Weibo

But there are worrying signs that Beijing is amping up the aggression, with the drills this week marking the first time the Chinese army is simulating a full-scale attack and targeting Taiwanese islands close to its coast, the BBC reported, citing military analysts.

The two-day military drills, which were launched Thursday morning, were uncharacteristically announced on the day itself. A map released by the Eastern Command of the PLA showed that the exercises will be held in five different areas surrounding Taiwan, as well as the outlying islands Taiwan controls like Matsu and Kinmen, which are located closer to the mainland’s shores.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Thursday that it had dispatched forces, including aircraft, navy vessels, and coastal missile systems to respond to the PLA’s activities. The ministry also wrote in a post on X: “We seek no conflicts, but we will not shy away from one to ensure our nation’s safety and protect our beautiful homeland.”

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