China’s recent surge in military exercises and warplane missions near Taiwan, which have raised concerns in the region, was necessary to defend its sovereignty and territory, a Chinese official said Wednesday.
Beijing’s military flew 56 planes off the southwest coast of Taiwan in a single day earlier this month, a record that capped a four-day campaign in which it made 149 flights. All were in international airspace, but the exhibition raised fears that any misstep could lead to an inadvertent escalation of tensions in the region.
Taiwan sees China’s actions as an announcement of its threat to control an island it claims as its own territory, with the help of the army if necessary. The two parties separated in the 1949 civil war and are officially unrelated.
The purpose of the maneuvers was “fundamentally to safeguard the general interests of the Chinese nation and the vital interests of the population on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the Beijing government’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
“The exercises of the People’s Liberation Army are necessary actions to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ma told reporters at a fortnightly press conference in the Chinese capital.
Ma blamed the democratically elected Taiwan pro-independence government and its relations with “outside forces” for raising tensions.
Outside observers argue that the military maneuvers are designed to degrade the island’s physical defense capabilities through attrition, while turning the public against its leadership through a form of psychological warfare.
Taiwan, a close ally of the United States, mobilized its jets to intercept Chinese aircraft and activated its air defense systems. In addition, it is working to strengthen its defenses with the purchase of new technology from the United States and the development of its own systems, including submarines.
Opinion polls show that the vast majority of Taiwanese are in favor of maintaining de facto independent status without giving in to calls for China’s political unification.
After a week of unprecedented tensions, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen vowed on Sunday that she would defend the island from mounting pressure from China. His remarks came a day after Chinese leader Xi Jinping said that the annexation of Taiwan “must be done”, noting that the best way to achieve it is peacefully.
Although this rhetoric is common, many see a growing possibility of conflict because of Xi’s desire to resolve what China calls the “Taiwan question” and because of the Taiwanese leadership’s willingness to maintain the status quo.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.