China Ends Military Drills Around Taiwan, Vows Regular Patrols

The Chinese military announced an end to a week of intensive military drills around Taiwan on Wednesday but signaled its intention to continue regular patrols in the sensitive waters between the two countries.

Chinese forces "successfully completed various tasks" during the naval and air force training missions around Taiwan, said Col. Shi Yi, a spokesperson for the People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command. The exercises originally scheduled from August 4 to 7 were extended twice, and Taiwan's armed forces continued to detect large military maneuvers on August 10.

"Theater troops will pay close attention to changes in the situation in the Taiwan Strait, continue to train and prepare, organize regular combat readiness patrols in the Taiwan Strait and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Shi said.

Beijing's war games, the largest show of force in the region since the mid-1990s, began shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi departed Taipei late on August 3 following a historic trip with other Democratic lawmakers.

In the week prior to Wednesday, publicly available statistics from Taiwan's Defense Ministry showed Beijing's warplanes had flown nearly 300 sorties around the island, including 125 sorties across the Taiwan Strait median line. Throughout the drills, between 10 and 14 Chinese naval vessels were present around Taiwan at all times, the figures showed.

In an interview with CBS's Face the Nation over the weekend, Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's representative in Washington, said the exercises were unprecedented: "From the scope and the actions, it appears that they have been preparing for this for some time, way before Speaker Pelosi decided to visit Taiwan."

China Announces Regular Taiwan Strait Patrols
Taiwan continued to detect large Chinese military movements in the Taiwan Strait as Beijing formally announced an end to a week of war games on August 10. Above, a Taiwanese F-16 fighter aircraft lands at Chiashan Air Force Base on August 6 in Hualien, Taiwan. Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

In the past, China has announced military patrols in the Taiwan Strait—provocative because of their proximity to Taiwan—as a way to signal displeasure with Taipei or Washington. Wednesday's announcement suggests Beijing seeks to normalize the moves.

At a press conference in Taipei a day earlier, Joseph Wu, Taiwan's foreign minister, blasted China's decision to begin ignoring the median line, which acted as an unofficial buffer to keep tensions in check throughout the Cold War.

"China has openly declared its ownership over the Taiwan Strait," said Wu. "On this occasion, China has also taken specific actions to break the long-standing tacit agreement on the median line of the Taiwan Strait. And after the drills conclude, China may try to routinize its action in an attempt to wreck the long-term status quo across the Taiwan Strait."

Responding to the Chinese military's statement, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said: "While PLA Eastern Theater announced that they have finished their joint military operation and will conduct routine patrol, #ROCArmedForces will adjust how we deploy our forces considering multiple factors including troop morale and threats, without letting our guard down."

Taiwan launched planned anti-invasion drills as scheduled this week.

U.S. officials have insisted in the last days that American warships and warplanes will return to lawful operations in the Taiwan Strait, which they regard as an international waterway guaranteeing navigational and overflight rights.

Pelosi herself, meanwhile, defended her controversial visit on Tuesday, telling NBC's Today show: "The people of Taiwan welcomed the visit. The Chinese government may not have, but China will not be allowed to isolate Taiwan."

"Just because...the president of China acts like a bully [and] has his own insecurities, it doesn't mean I'm going to have him do the schedule for members of Congress," she said.