China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will hold war games north of Taiwan in the East China Sea for the rest of the week, thought to be in response to the United States approving the sale of 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taipei.

The live-fire drill, the third in a series of exercises by the Chinese navy and air force within the span of a month, is being seen in Taipei as a response to the recent US approval of the multibillion-dollar sale of 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a landmark deal laden with political significance to help the self-ruled island better stave off any possible PLA blitz.

The Chinese defense ministry and maritime administration have warned all vessels not to enter the waters off the east of Ningbo in China’s Zhejiang province for 48 hours starting from Tuesday evening. They have cordoned off a rectangle about 3,000 square kilometers in size, which falls in the area under the control of the PLA East Theater Command’s East Sea Fleet from the Chinese Navy based in Ningbo.

The exercise area is in the East China Sea, off China’s Zhejiang province and north of Taiwan.

It is believed that the drill will involve Type 052D destroyers, Type 056 corvettes and Type 054A frigates that are in active service with the East Sea Fleet.

Air traffic between Taiwan and eastern and northern China will be affected as most routes between Taipei and Shanghai and Beijing fly over the sealed-off area in the East China Sea.

The last two drills at the end of July were also held close to the Taiwan Strait, in line with Beijing’s long tradition of ramping up military exercises in the run-up to major elections in Taiwan.

Voters in the island country – seen by Beijing as a wayward province that must be reunited with the mainland – will pick the new president, either incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen or the Kuomintang party’s candidate Han Kuo-yu, in January.

The PLA may have an even busier schedule throughout the next four months when Tsai and Han kick-start their stumping tours and spell out their respective strategies for cross-strait ties.

Separate reports by Taiwanese papers say the PLA’s East and South Theater Commands have requested all pilots and seamen to be on standby in Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong province until the end of the year to respond to emergencies and any deployment orders by Beijing.

Another sign of more drills in store for Taiwan is that some major cruise liner operators in Fujian and Guangdong provinces have suspended their trips along the Taiwan Strait and also cruise trips from Hong Kong and Macau to Taiwan’s Keelung and Pingtung ports will take detours along the island’s Pacific coast, instead of passing through the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen tries out an F-16 flight simulator. Taiwan’s Air Force defending Taiwan’s airspace, reads the slogan.
A poster on Tsai’s Facebook page lauding closer US-Taiwan defense cooperation and the sale of F-16 fighters. Photos: Facebook

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Tsai on Tuesday warned of Beijing’s expansionism when addressing the 2019 Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue in Taipei, blasting Xi Jinping’s bid to annex Taiwan by force and foist the “one country, two systems” model, already failed in Hong Kong, upon the island.

Also on the forum was former Australian defense minister Christopher Pyne – who resigned in May and is visiting Taiwan for the first time – who also warned of China’s increasing militarization in the South China Sea and talked of Australia’s continuous investment in defense and telecommunications facilities.

But Pyne said he did not think Beijing would move against Hong Kong or Taiwan as it did in Tiananmen Square in 1989, given its increasing engagement in the global economy and diplomacy.