Recent Chinese air and sea drills simulating an encirclement of Taiwan are intended as a “serious warning” to pro-independence politicians on the self-governing island and their foreign supporters, a Beijing spokeswoman said.
The three days of large-scale air and sea exercises named Joint Sword that ended on Monday were a response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with US house speaker Kevin McCarthy in California last week.
China had warned of serious consequences if that meeting went ahead.
“It is a necessary action to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary and regularly sends ships and warplanes into airspace and waters near the island.
Such missions have grown more frequent in recent years, accompanied by increasingly bellicose language from the administration of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
Any conflict between the sides could draw in the US, Taiwan’s closest ally, which is required by law to consider all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern”.
The vast majority of Taiwanese favour maintaining their current de-facto independent status, while Ms Tsai has said there is no need for a formal declaration since the island democracy is already an independent nation.
Despite that, China, which does not recognise Taiwan’s government institutions and has cut off contact with Ms Tsai’s administration, routinely accuses her of plotting formal independence with outside backing – generally seen as referring to the US.
She also repeated China’s assertion that its military threats are “targeted at Taiwan’s independence separatist activities and interference from external forces, and by no means at our compatriots in Taiwan”.
What that means in practical terms is not clear, although Beijing has long exploited political divisions within Taiwanese society, which boasts a robust democracy and strong civil liberties.
The Chinese military issued a threat as it concluded the exercises, saying its troops “can fight at any time to resolutely smash any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ and foreign interference attempts”.