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China steps up military pressure on Taiwan after US visit

January 27, 2024

Saturday's deployment marks the biggest in number since Taiwan elected pro-independence President Lai Ching-te. It comes after two US Congressmen ended their official visit to the island on Friday.

Chinese fighter jets conduct a joint combat training exercises around Taiwan
China sends military aircraft to the area around Taiwan almost every dayImage: Gong Yulong/Xinhua/AP Photo/picture alliance

Beijing has sent 33 fighter jets and a group of six naval vessels toward Taiwan, the island's Defense Ministry said on Saturday, adding that Taiwan responded by deploying its own forces.

The number of daily warplane deployments marked a new high since Taiwan held its democratic presidential and legislative elections on January 13.

The increased military pressure from Beijing came as two US Congressmen wrapped up a three-day visit to Taiwan on Friday. Ami Bera and Mario Diaz-Balart had come as the first official US delegation since the election of  William Lai Ching-te as Taiwan's new president.

13 of the 33 Chinese fighter jets crossed the unofficial median line in the Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan and China, the ministry said.

Moreover, the ministry reported that two Chinese balloons crossed the line and then disappeared while flying to the northern and southern parts of the island.

China-Taiwan conflict: How it could ruin the global economy

China and US hold talks

The rise in tensions in the Taiwan Strait also followed an announcement that senior US and Chinese officials would meet in the Thai capital as the two superpowers seek to cool tensions.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi were both in Bangkok for talks, although it was not clear if they had already met or not.

US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the planned meeting in Bangkok continues the commitment US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping made in November "to maintain strategic communication and responsibly manage the relationship."

During talks, Foreign Minister Wang was expected to make clear China's position on Taiwan and on US-China relations, and discuss international and regional concerns, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

Taiwan has had an independent government since 1949, but China considers the self-governing island to be its territory.

The US is legally obligated to support Taiwan's defense capabilities under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

Taiwan losing diplomatic allies

The threat of conflict between China and Taiwan is not only playing out between Beijing and Washington, but has also drawn in the wider Pacific region where China is attempting to spread its influence and cut off Taiwan diplomatically.

The Pacific island state of Nauru severed ties with Taiwan earlier this month and announced its diplomatic recognition of Beijing.

Taiwan ally Nauru cuts diplomatic ties days election

The neighboring island state of Tuvalu — one of only 12 states left that officially recognize Taiwan — also looks like it could be on the verge of switching allegiance.

The country's pro-Taiwan Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in parliament, election results showed Saturday.

Natano had pledged continued support for Taiwan, a diplomatic ally since 1979. But another leadership contender, Seve Paeniu, has said that diplomatic relations should be reviewed, with the new government deciding whether Taiwan or China best serves Tuvalu's needs.

dh/ab (AP, AFP, dpa)