Taiwan Ready to Defend Itself After China Launches ‘Punishment’ Drills

‘Let us work together to show the world our determination to protect the democratic Taiwan,’ President Lai Ching-te said.

TAIPEI, Taiwan—China kicked off large-scale military exercises around Taiwan on May 23, a move that drew condemnation from the island’s newly sworn-in administration of President Lai Ching-te.

“I will stand on the front line with all the brothers and sisters in the military to defend national security together,” Mr. Lai said during a visit to the island’s 66th Marine Brigade’s base in the northern city of Taoyuan on May 23.

“In the face of external challenges and threats, we will continue to defend the values of democracy, and safeguard peace and stability in the region,” Mr. Lai said. “Let us work together to show the world our determination to protect the democratic Taiwan.”

Hours before Mr. Lai’s remarks, the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command announced two-day exercises beginning at 7:45 a.m. local time on May 23, involving its army, navy, air force, and rocket force. The drills, dubbed Joint Sword-2024A, are being conducted around Taiwan—to the north, south, and east and in the Taiwan Strait—and the island’s offshore islands of Dongyin, Kinmen, Matsu, and Wuqiu.

Li Xi, spokesperson for the theater command, said that the exercises would “serve as a strong punishment for the separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’ forces,” according to Chinese state-run media outlet Xinhua. Mr. Li added that the drills would also be a “stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces.”

China’s military exercises come just three days after Mr. Lai was sworn in as Taiwan’s new president, replacing Tsai Ing-wen and beginning an unprecedented third consecutive term for their Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In his inaugural speech, Mr. Lai called on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to stop its “political and military intimidation” against Taiwan.

China’s communist regime despises the DPP, believing the party stands in the way of its “reunification” with Taiwan. As a result, DPP members, including Ms. Tsai and Mr. Lai, have been attacked by China as being “separatists.”

Although Mr. Li did not elaborate on what he meant by “external forces,” he was likely referring to countries that chose to formally congratulate Mr. Lai on his inauguration.

On May 21, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said China “deplores and opposes” Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision to congratulate Mr. Lai. “No external interference can hold back the trend toward China’s reunification,” Mr. Wang said.

In response to China’s military exercises, Taiwan’s military scrambled warplanes, dispatched missile systems, and deployed navy vessels in an effort to protect the island.


Taiwanese Presidential Office spokesperson Guo Ya-hui expressed regret that China was “threatening Taiwan’s democracy and freedom and regional peace and stability” with its “unilateral military provocations.”

“In the face of external provocations and threats, we will continue to defend democracy and have the confidence and ability to protect the country’s security,” Ms. Guo added while speaking to local media on May 23.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense issued a statement calling China’s military exercises “irrational provocation” while showing Beijing’s “hegemonic nature at heart.” The ministry added that it had taken necessary military countermeasures.

“In the face of PLA pressure, our service members stand vigilant,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a separate statement on social media platform X, using the abbreviated name of the CCP’s military, the People’s Liberation Army. “We seek no conflicts, but we will not shy away from one to ensure our nation’s safety and protect our beautiful homeland.”

Chu Li-luan, chairman of the opposition Kuomintang Party, issued a statement calling on China to “exercise restraint” and “avoid escalating tensions.”

“We must remind [China] that the mainstream public opinion in Taiwan opposes any attempts to change the status-quo by force. The erroneous signals sent by the drills have already harmed the prospects for a peaceful Cross-Strait development,” Mr. Chu wrote.

In August 2022, China fired missiles over Taiwan during military exercises that also took place in the air and waters around Taiwan, after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taipei.

China’s military also held three-day military drills in April 2023, following a meeting between then-President Tsai and then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in California.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka, the deputy commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, while speaking to the National Press Club of Australia in the capital Canberra on May 23, called on Asia-Pacific nations to condemn China’s military exercises.

“Just because we expect that behavior doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t condemn it, and we need to condemn it publicly. And it needs to come from us, but it also needs to come, I believe, from nations in the region,” Lt. Gen. Sklenka said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s one thing when the United States condemns the Chinese, but it has a far more powerful effect, I believe, when it comes from nations within this region.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said his country was “closely monitoring” the developments between China and Taiwan on May 23, according to Japanese outlet The Mainichi. He stressed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for “the security of Japan” and “the entire international community.”


China was already putting significant military pressure on Mr. Lai before his inauguration.

According to Taiwan’s defense ministry, Taiwan spotted 45 Chinese military planes and 6 vessels near the island during the 24-hour period before 6 a.m. local time on May 15. It was the most warplanes in a single day of any of China’s incursion incidents this year.

Taiwan’s military officials held a press conference in Taipei at 5 p.m. local time on May 23. One of the questions asked during the briefing was whether China could hold more exercises after May 24, considering the choice of the letter “A” in its code name for the current drills.

In response, the military officials declined to speculate but added that the military will continue to be on high alert and monitor future CCP military activities.

Sung Wen-ti, a political scientist at the Australian National University’s Taiwan Studies Program, suggested in a post on X on May 23 that the two-day drills could be “a prelude to more and bigger military drills to come.”

“This is a ‘#Signal’ to shape international narratives. The … real ‘#Punishment’ against Taiwan may be yet to come, for it takes time,” Mr. Sung wrote. “For it takes time to coordinate and then unleash all-of-government inter-agency punishment.”

Mr. Sung noted that the suffix “A” in the code name “suggests there may be future rounds B, and possibly C.”

Also at the press conference, the military officials revealed that China had deployed 15 warships, 16 coast guard vessels, and 42 warplanes for its drills around Taiwan, as of 2 p.m. local time on May 23. The Chinese drills were still happening at the time.


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