China says military 'ready to fight' after combat exercises around Taiwan

After China spent three days simulating attacks on Taiwan, the US is preparing to hold its own military drills in the disputed South China Sea, ITV News' Chloe Keedy reports

China’s military has declared it is “ready to fight” after completing three days of large-scale combat exercises around Taiwan.

The People's Republic said it simulated sealing off the island in response to the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen’s trip to the US last week. The drills were meant as a warning to self-governing island of Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province.

China's military said: “The theatre’s troops are ready to fight at all times and can fight at any time to resolutely smash any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ and foreign interference attempts." The exercises were similar to ones conducted by China last August, when it launched missile strikes on targets in the seas around Taiwan.

A Chinese fighter jet performs an mid-air refuelling manoeuvre as drills were held. Credit: AP

That was in retaliation for then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, but the latest drills have been smaller and less disruptive. Military experts say the exercises serve both as intimidation and as an opportunity for Chinese troops to practice sealing off Taiwan by blocking sea and air traffic.

This could be an important strategic option the Chinese military might pursue in the event it uses military force to take Taiwan. The Chinese actions follow President Tsai’s delicate mission to shore up Taiwan's dwindling diplomatic alliances in Central America and boost its US support.

She capped her trip with a sensitive meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.

China says it was retaliating to Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen's meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Credit: AP

A US congressional delegation also met with Tsai over the weekend in Taiwan after she returned.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Ms Tsai's visit to the US and the congressional visit to Taiwan were not out of the norm. Tsai travelled through the United States six times between 2016 and 2019.

“There was no reason to react in any way militarily,” Mr Kirby said. “There’s no reason for tensions across the Taiwan Strait to devolve into any kind of conflict.” China responded immediately to the McCarthy meeting by imposing a travel ban and financial sanctions against those associated with Tsai’s US trip and with increased military activity through the weekend. “China wants to use any increase of diplomatic interactions between the US and Taiwan as an excuse to train its military,” said Kuo Yu-jen, a defence studies expert and director of the Institute for National Policy Research in Taiwan.

Chinese news shows a missile being prepared during the 'Joint Swords' training exercises. Credit: AP

Beijing says contact between foreign officials and the island’s democratic government encourages Taiwanese people who want formal, rather than de facto, independence.

This would be a step too far for China’s ruling Communist Party, which it says would lead to war.

Both sides split in 1949 after a civil war, and the Communist Party says the island is obliged to rejoin the mainland, by force if necessary. On Monday, the PLA said its Shandong aircraft carrier was taking part in the exercises encircling Taiwan for the first time.

Its appearance suggests it could be used to prevent foreign militaries from coming to help Taiwan, said Han Gan-ming, a research fellow at the Taipei government-backed Institute for National Defense and Security Research. “In the future if there’s a similar military manoeuvre, then Taiwan will have to face it alone,” he said.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.

Between 6am Sunday and 6am Monday, a total of 70 planes half crossed the median of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary once tacitly accepted by both sides, according to Taipei.

By Monday evening, Taiwan's defense ministry reported another 91 flights by bombers, as well as multiple fighter jets, early warning aircraft and military transport planes. That followed a full day between Friday and Saturday in which eight warships and 71 planes were detected near Taiwan, according to the island's Defense Ministry.

In a statement, the nation said it was approaching the situation from the perspective of “not escalating conflict, and not causing disputes.”