China stages drills off Taiwan, warns PH anew on Edca
China launched military drills around Taiwan on Saturday in what it called a “stern warning” to the self-ruled island’s government following a meeting between its president and the US House Speaker.
Two days earlier, Beijing urged Indo-Pacific countries to rethink the “grave irreparable consequences” of having more US military presence in the region, specifically warning the Philippines that it could be dragged into the China-Taiwan conflict as it continued to host American troops in its military bases close to Taiwan.
Dubbed “United Sharp Sword,” the three-day military exercise — which state media said would include rehearsing an encirclement of Taiwan — will run until Monday, the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement.
China views democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.
The maneuvers follow a meeting between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
“These operations serve as a stern warning against the collusion between separatist forces seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and external forces and against their provocative activities,” said Shi Yin, a PLA spokesperson.
“The operations are necessary for safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Shi said.
A similar statement was made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning during a press conference in Beijing on Thursday when she was asked to comment on four more Philippine bases that American forces were granted access to under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between Manila and Washington.
“The comments on the locations of the new military bases also speak to the concern shared by many insightful people in the Philippines, who worry that this may draw their country into the whirlpool of a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait,” Mao said.
“The Taiwan question is China’s internal affair and its resolution is a matter for the Chinese,” she said. “It is not the Chinese side that is heightening cross-Strait tensions, but the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces in the island and certain countries that support these forces.”
Tsai immediately denounced the drills, pledging to work with “the US and other like-minded countries” in the face of “continued authoritarian expansionism.”
Taiwan’s defense ministry said eight Chinese warships and 42 fighter jets were detected around the island on Saturday.
The ministry expressed “solemn condemnation of such irrational actions,” adding that 29 jets crossed into Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone (Adiz), the highest number in a single day this year, according to data collected by French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).
A report from China state broadcaster CCTV said: “The task force will simultaneously organize patrols and advances around Taiwan island, shaping an all-round encirclement and deterrence posture.”
It detailed the type of weapons China was putting through its paces, including “long-range rocket artillery, naval destroyers, missile boats, air force fighters, bombers, jammers and refuelers.”
China was using Tsai’s US visit as an “excuse to conduct military exercises, which has seriously undermined peace, stability and security in the region,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said.
Last August, China deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest show of force in years, following a trip to the island by McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.
Hours before her meeting with McCarthy on Wednesday, China sent its Shandong aircraft carrier through Taiwan’s southeastern waters on its way to the western Pacific.
Beijing said on Friday that “Taiwan is an inseparable part of China,” after repeatedly warning against the Tsai-McCarthy meeting.
Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping said the exercises were intended to demonstrate that the Chinese Army will be ready if “provocation intensifies” to “solve the Taiwan issue once and for all.”
DND reply to Beijing
Arsenio Andolong, spokesperson for the Department of National Defense (DND), said the new Edca sites, which were in addition to five that were already identified, were “not directed against any particular country but to modernize our alliance with the US and maintain a peaceful, free and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
The three new Edca locations closest to Taiwan are Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan province; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province; and Lal-lo Airport, also in Cagayan.
The fourth new Edca site is on Balabac Island in Palawan, which faces the South China Sea where tensions between China and Southeast Asian nations, particularly the Philippines, have been rising.
In one of the most serious actions by the Chinese, the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship was temporarily blinded by a military grade laser pointed at it by a Chinese coast guard vessel as it was supporting a resupply mission to a military outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal on Feb. 6.
‘By invitation’ only
The DND also maintained that the Edca sites would not compromise Philippine sovereignty.
It said that the use of the bases by US personnel was “by invitation and is by no means unhampered or unimpeded.”
“‘There is no gross violation of our national sovereignty’ as claimed by certain quarters. The Edca, which is an offshoot of the [Mutual Defense Treaty], was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court,” the DND said.
It reiterated that the nine Edca sites were not permanent military basing facilities, but will be jointly operated by both Filipino and American troops, “and their use by our treaty ally is subject to our permission and mutual agreement.”
These locations would also primarily be storage facilities, which require minimum use of utilities since they will only be utilized during exercises and emergencies, and improvements on existing facilities owned and operated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The construction and development of the Edca locations would also be funded by the United States and would create local jobs and boost local economies.
The DND issued the statement after Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party warned that Filipino taxpayers would unjustly shoulder the costs of operating four more Edca sites.
The DND justified the allocation of four new Edca sites to “enhance the country’s capability to be secure,” including defending its territory, responding to calamities, and protecting its fisherfolk and seafarers.