China announces military drills after Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen’s US trip

China has announced three days of military manoeuvres around Taiwan, in an apparent reaction to Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with senior US lawmakers in California.

The People’s Liberation Army will “conduct Taiwan encirclement combat readiness, patrol and joint sharp sword exercises” in the Taiwan Strait and waters and airspace north, south and east of Taiwan from Saturday until Monday, the PLA Eastern Theater Command said.

The statement on Saturday morning came a day after Tsai returned from a 10-day trip that culminated with talks in California with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the most senior elected US official to meet a Taiwanese president on American soil.

The Chinese military said the drills would be organised “as planned” and made no mention of Tsai’s trip, but Beijing had previously railed against the meeting with McCarthy and threatened to “hit back [with] resolute steps to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity” if it went ahead.

Taiwanese government officials said the scale and scope of Beijing’s response to Tsai’s tour remained far below the level of military intimidation that followed then-US Speaker Nancy Pelosi visit to Taipei in August.

China unleashed week-long manoeuvres upon Pelosi’s departure that included firing missiles over Taiwan’s airspace and simulating a blockade and invasion of the country.

In the light of that episode, Tsai’s administration handled her long-planned trip with extreme caution. The meeting with McCarthy in California was arranged as an alternative to a potential visit by McCarthy to Taiwan, which Taipei was concerned might have triggered punitive measures similar to or even stronger than in the wake of Pelosi’s trip.

During Tsai’s tour, her office carefully managed the terms of her US itinerary in close consultation with the Biden administration, according to several people familiar with the situation. Her team kept meetings with other members of Congress confidential until several days after they had occurred.

During the trip, which featured two transits through the US that bookended visits to diplomatic allies in Central America, Beijing’s only military response was sailing the newer of its two aircraft carriers in naval service past the southern tip of Taiwan into waters east of the country for the first time.

Beijing’s timing of the military drills may have been delayed by political considerations. Tsai’s stopover in California coincided with a visit to China by French president Emmanuel Macron and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who met President Xi Jinping to push for co-operation on ending the war in Ukraine.

Beijing was also hosting Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, in an effort to court Taiwan’s main opposition party the Kuomintang ahead of presidential elections in the country next January.

China’s maritime safety administration last week said the coast guard would conduct a three-day inspection exercise of commercial ships in the Taiwan Strait, a move that did not involve the PLA.

While Saturday’s statement increased the degree of Beijing’s response, the exercises announced are shorter than those organised last year and do not include a known missile component — the most provocative and risky element of last year’s drills.

Taiwan’s defence ministry accused China of using Tsai’s trip as a pretext for the drills. Beijing’s moves had “already severely damaged regional peace, stability and security”, it added.

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