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China Kicks Off 2023 With Massive Combat Drills Around Taiwan

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Dozens of Chinese warplanes and four ships conducted massive combat drills, the first of 2023, around Taiwan into the early hours of Monday, according to the defense ministries of China and Taiwan.

The exercises, which began Sunday, focused on testing Chinese naval and aerial forces’ ability to complete joint assaults and “resolutely counter the collusive and provocative acts of the external forces and the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces, China’s defense ministry said in a statement. Taiwan’s defense ministry accused 28 aircraft, out of the 57 total taking part in the exercises, of crossing the unofficial dividing line through the Taiwan Strait into the island’s protected airspace.

“Armed Forces have monitored the situation,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said.

China nearly doubled the number of fighter jets, bombers and support aircraft incursions into Taiwan’s claimed airspace in 2022 compared to the year prior, according to AFP, as Beijing grows more explicit in its desire to absorb Taiwan — by force if necessary — and the U.S. sounds the alarm on China’s growing military influence in the Pacific region.

“We seek neither escalation nor conflict,” Taiwan’s defense ministry added Monday in a rare follow up to their regular statement on Chinese territorial incursions.

Beijing’s “false accusation and irrational provocation have severely destabilized the security of Taiwan Strait and neighboring regions,” the ministry said. “We can and we will keep our homeland safe.”

The large-scale combat exercises are the second in less than a month. China sent a sortie of 47 fighter jets across the median line, with a record 71 total spotted near the island, on Dec. 25, shortly after President Joe Biden signed a bill authorizing billions in military support for Taiwan, CNN reported.

The U.S. conducted its first Freedom of Navigation Operation of the year on Jan 5, transiting the USS Chung-Hoon through the Taiwan Strait “through waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law,” according to a statement. The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea just a few times each year in a show of force against China’s territorial claims.

Chinese state-run Global Times published a story afterward threatening intense military drills in response to any continued “provocations” from external forces and “Taiwan independence” fighters. The outlet cited a State Department announcement of a potential $180 million arms sale to Taiwan on Dec. 28.

The exercises preceded a visit from German lawmakers to the island on Monday, who plan to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen, the government’s National Security Council head and the main council responsible for relations with China, according to The Associated Press.

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