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Taiwan on High Alert As China Conducts Military Exercises 

Regional tensions rise as China conducts massive military exercises near Taiwan. Japanese officials advocate for dialogue and peace amid mounting concerns.



A large screen in Beijing showing news about military exercises conducted by the Chinese military around Taiwan on May 24. (©Kyodo)

On May 23, China initiated large-scale military exercises around Taiwan, surrounding the country with naval vessels and military aircraft. The People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Eastern Theater Command (ETC) announced the maneuvers three days after Taiwan's democratically-elected president, Lai Ching-te, assumed office on May 20. It claims jurisdiction over the Taiwan region.

As an excuse to carry out the exercises, China claimed that Lai, the Democratic Progressive Party leader, had supported Taiwan independence in the past.

According to China's ETC, exercises commenced at 7:45 AM on May 23 off Taiwan's northern, southern, and eastern coasts. They included the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan's outlying Kinmen and Matsu Islands near the Chinese mainland. 

A Chinese spokesperson described the exercises as "strong disciplinary measures against separatist forces promoting Taiwanese independence." He further warned against "external interference and provocation."

China's Eastern Theater Command released a scene from a military exercise on Weibo on May 23. It shows Chinese military aircraft leaving the hangar. (©Kyodo)

Beijing's Relentless Condemnation

China escalated its criticism and pressure following the inauguration of the Lai administration on May 20. The following day, Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi publicly denounced the new president. "Nobody will tolerate the disgraceful actions of individuals like Lai Ching-te who betray their nation and ancestors," he declared.

Lai's omission of the "One China" principle from his inaugural address particularly irked China. Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasized during a press briefing on May 23 that "Taiwanese independence is a dead end. China remains steadfast in safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity." 

Wang further maintained that the military exercises "fully adhere to international law and practices and are entirely legitimate and necessary."

Beijing has also expressed resentment of the United States for its support of Taiwan. On May 22, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed sanctions on 12 defense-related companies and 10 individuals from the US. It cited reasons including the sale of arms to Taiwan, marking the third consecutive day of punitive measures against America.


Tracking China's Military Maneuvers

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense has held press briefings regarding China's military exercises. It also regularly issues public updates via X, formerly Twitter. It revealed on May 25, that, as of 6 AM, 62 People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft and 27 PLA-Navy (PLAN) warships had been detected near Taiwan. Of the aircraft, 47 had crossed the de facto ceasefire line of the Taiwan Strait or encroached upon Taiwan's air defense identification zone. By 6 AM on Monday, May 27, there were still 21 PLA military aircraft, 11 PLA ships, and four Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels detected operating off the coast of Taiwan. Ten military aircraft were monitored entering Taiwan's ADIZ. 

PLA warships and military aircraft approached within 24 nautical miles of Taiwan's contiguous waters and airspace. However, they conducted their activities outside of that range.

 In August 2022, China conducted military exercises in response to the Taiwan visit of then-Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. At that time, Taiwanese authorities reported that China launched 11 ballistic missiles. At least one of those landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

Unlike in the past, this time China refrained from establishing no-fly zones and disclosing exercise coordinates, according to the ministry. Additionally, they underscored that there had been no confirmation of live ammunition fired in the sea or airspace surrounding the Taiwan Strait.

Lai Ching-te delivered instructions to Taiwan's Marine Corps during his inspection of their units on May 23. In his talk the new President emphasized the imperative to uphold the values of freedom and democracy. Lai also stressed the importance of maintaining regional peace and stability in facing external challenges and Chinese intimidation.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi held a press conference on May 20. (@Sankei by Ataru Haruna)

Japanese Lawmakers Speak Out

Addressing the escalating tensions, Japanese officials conveyed their stance in a series of press conferences.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi addressed the situation at a May 23 press conference. "Japan has consistently advocated peaceful dialogue to resolve Taiwan-related issues," he stated. "We will continue to firmly convey to China the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."

Hayashi added, "Close coordination with allied and partner nations, including the US, is crucial as we collectively convey our shared position." We will persist in closely monitoring cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan and remain committed to diplomatic efforts."

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara stated in a press conference on May 24 that Japan is "closely monitoring with great concern" China's military exercises. Kihara emphasized Japan's determination to ensure full vigilance and surveillance in the vicinity of Japan.

Regarding the PLA's recent activities, he noted that China has been "stepping up its presence near our borders and ramping up military activities around Taiwan." However, he added, "We hope that issues surrounding Taiwan will be peacefully resolved through dialogue."


Okinawa Prefecture Governor Denny Tamaki also commented on China's drills in a regular press conference on May 24. "The aim of these exercises is to safeguard China's security," he said. Tamaki then indicated that China should carry out its exercises carefully to avoid causing regional instability.


Author: Daniel Manning