China’s Taiwan Exercises Largest Since Pelosi’s Visit; Even Remote Kinmen and Matsu Islands Encircled

Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te studies a rocket launcher during his visit to a military camp in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on Thursday.

BEIJING — China began extensive military drills in waters around Taiwan on Thursday, intending to increase pressure against Taiwan by fully encircling it in response to Monday’s inauguration of Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te, whom China views as an “obstinate Taiwan independence worker.”

A video released Thursday by the Chinese military on its official social media shows frigates and other vessels of the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command, which has Taiwan within it ambit, conducting exercises in the waters north of Taiwan.

“All naval vessels and personnel are ready to respond to any situation at any time,” a loud voice in the video said.

The exercise area was set up to encompass not only Taiwan’s main island, but also the outlying Kinmen Islands and the Matsu Islands, expanding the scope compared to its past exercises. The Chinese military conducted a ballistic missile launch drill in response to a visit to Taiwan in August 2022 by then U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The latest drills seem to be on a scale that is second to that.

This time, the China Coast Guard (CCG), which is in charge of maritime law enforcement, was also mobilized in conjunction with the military drills, which were expected to last two days. The CCG was placed under the People’s Armed Police Force, which is under the Central Military Commission — the military’s leadership body — in 2018, and has conducted joint training with the military. The mobilization of the CCG this time clearly indicates China’s intention to contain Taiwan in a multilayered manner.

Lai’s inauguration speech on Monday was the trigger for China’s decision to conduct the drills. Referring to “1996,” the year of the first directly elected president taking office, Lai said, “On this day in 1996 … conveying to the international community that the Republic of China Taiwan is a sovereign, independent nation in which sovereignty lies in the hands of the people.”

The Chinese side was dead set against the remark, saying that the speech “stubbornly followed the ‘Taiwan independence’ stance.” China Central Television on Thursday reported Lai’s speech, comparing it to the inaugural speeches of previous presidents and criticizing him by saying, “Lai cannot help but expose his true colors as an advocate for ‘Taiwan independence.’”

Beijing has long regarded Lai as a pro-independence force and apparently perceived his inaugural speech as lacking consideration for China’s claims. It viewed the new president’s stance as worse than that of President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration. This stance is believed to be behind the decision to hold military exercises, which were not held when Tsai took office.

Speaking with The Yomiuri Shimbun, a Chinese expert on Taiwan affairs wryly described the exercises as “a gift to Lai” and analyzed that China would make no compromises for the sake of dialogue.

China is ready to further intimidate Lai depending on his future words and actions and may hold a ballistic missile launch drill, like it did in 2022, or dispatch an aircraft carrier to simulate preparations for a contingency in Taiwan.

However, some observers see the current exercises as a previously determined course of action. This is because, given the scale of the exercises, it seems they could not have been suddenly prepared after the speech.

“The exercises were likely planned to be held after Lai’s inauguration ceremony anyway, regardless of what he would have said at his speech,” a source close to the matter said, adding that China wanted to demonstrate for a domestic audience its hardline stance toward the independent-minded Lai administration.

China is also nervous about Japan’s involvement with Taiwan, and Chinese Ambassador to Japan Wu Jianghao warned at a roundtable discussion in Tokyo on Monday that “If Japan ties itself onto the chariot of splitting China, the Japanese people will be led into a pit of fire.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun