Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighter jets crossed the “middle line” of the Taiwan Straits on Monday morning, one hour before U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s Island Defense Ministry said.
“Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Monday morning before being ‘driven out’ by Taiwan’s air force. The Chinese fighters were also tracked by Taiwan’s land-based anti-aircraft missiles,” the defense ministry said, citing the island’s air force.
“The PLA operation is considered a strong response to the U.S. move [Azar’s Monday meeting with Tsai], which broke a diplomatic bottom line of China-U.S. relations. Military operations of even larger scale, like live-fire missile drills east of Taiwan island and near Guam [a U.S. island territory in the Western Pacific], should not be ruled out if the U.S. provokes further,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times warned on Monday, quoting Chinese “military experts.”
Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday. He is the highest-level U.S. cabinet official to visit the island since 1979. Taiwan is a sovereign state that Beijing regards as a breakaway Chinese territory. China bullies Taiwan both politically and militarily in an effort to intimidate the small island nation and gain control over the country.
Azar met with Tsai on Monday in direct defiance of Beijing, which has previously said there should be no formal meetings between the U.S. and Taiwan. “We urge the U.S. to … stop making official interactions of any kind with Taiwan … and not to send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ elements to avoid severe damage to China-U.S. relations,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Weng Wenbin said in anticipation of Azar’s visit on August 5.
One day after the foreign ministry’s warning, Beijing said it would hold live-fire drills in the East China Sea near Taiwan over the next two weeks.
“Two live-fire military exercises will be held near Zhoushan, an archipelago … 340 miles north of Taiwan. A three-day drill will start on Tuesday [August 11], followed by a two-day drill starting on August 16,” the China Maritime Safety Administration announced on August 6.