Members of Taiwan’s 564th Armored Brigade hold their flag after demonstrating their ability to repel an airborne attack near Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jan. 11, 2023.

Members of Taiwan’s 564th Armored Brigade hold their flag after demonstrating their ability to repel an airborne attack near Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jan. 11, 2023. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

China downsized its military exercises in the Taiwan Strait this week after its Foreign Ministry warned that Taiwan risked “military conflict” and “disaster” by courting U.S. support.

Taiwan Vice President William Lai stopped in New York on Aug. 12 en route to Paraguay, the only South American country with diplomatic ties to the island, and in Los Angeles on his way home four days later.

China, in response to Lai’s trip, launched military exercises Saturday around the island with dozens of aircraft and warships practicing anti-submarine warfare, ship-aircraft coordination and control of the air and seas around Taiwan.

The drills were meant as a “serious warning” against those seeking Taiwan’s independence from China, said Chinese Eastern Theater Command spokesman Senior Col. Shi Yi, according to a Saturday news release from China’s defense ministry.

China’s response was “not as strong as we anticipated,” said I-Chung Lai, a former Taiwanese artilleryman and president of the Taipei-based think tank The Prospect Foundation.

“Taiwanese people's daily life was not severely affected [by the recent exercises], and people generally don't talk about it,” he told Stars and Stripes by email Tuesday. “The daily conversation is about election. Even politicians in campaign did not talk about military drills in the past several days.”

On Saturday, 42 Chinese aircraft and eight warships were operating around Taiwan, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense; Sunday, it reported another 45 aircraft and nine warships in the area.

By Monday, just two aircraft and six ships were sighted and 15 aircraft and 10 ships on Tuesday, according to the ministry.

China considers Taiwan, a functional democracy, to be a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland. Beijing on a near-daily basis sends aircraft and ships toward the island, regardless of announced military exercises.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday resumed criticism of William Lai, a front-runner in Taiwan’s presidential election in January.

“What he does will only bring grave harm to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. It will only push Taiwan toward the danger of military conflict and lead our Taiwan compatriots to disaster,” Wang said, according to a ministry readout of the news conference.

“’Taiwan independence’ is a dead end,” Wang said. “Soliciting US support for ‘Taiwan independence’ will lead nowhere for ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists.”

Wang said “Taiwan has never been a country and will never be a country” and that “no one should underestimate” China’s resolve to safeguard its sovereignty.

Taipei on Monday did not appear to be concerned with Beijing’s warning, and its defense ministry said Taiwan’s military would “stand firm to hold our sovereignty against communist incursions” according to a Monday post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Peace is the universal value that all pursue, and [China’s] aggressive actions stand against it,” the ministry said in the post. “Righteousness, freedom, and democracy are what we treasure here in Taiwan.

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.

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