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China flies fighter jets near Taiwan after the leader's trip to the U.S.

In this image taken from video footage run Saturday by China's CCTV, a Chinese fighter jet performs an mid-air refueling maneuver at an unspecified location.
CCTV via AP
In this image taken from video footage run Saturday by China's CCTV, a Chinese fighter jet performs an mid-air refueling maneuver at an unspecified location.

Updated April 8, 2023 at 8:18 AM ET

BEIJING — China sent warships and dozens of fighter jets toward Taiwan on Saturday, the Taiwanese government said, in retaliation for a meeting between the U.S. House of Representatives speaker and the president of the self-ruled island democracy claimed by Beijing as part of its territory.

The Chinese military announced the start of three-day "combat readiness patrols" as a warning to Taiwanese who want to make the island's de facto independence permanent. The People's Liberation Army gave no indication whether they might include a repeat of previous exercises with missiles fired into the sea, which disrupted shipping and airline flights.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy held talks with President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday in California, adding to a series of foreign lawmakers who have met Tsai to show support in the face of Chinese intimidation. Beijing responded Friday by imposing a travel ban and financial sanctions against American groups and individuals associated with Tsai's U.S. visit.

On Saturday, eight warships and 71 planes were detected near Taiwan, 45 of which flew across the middle line of the strait that separates it from the mainland, the island's Ministry of Defense said. It said they included Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-11 and Shenyang J-16 jet fighters.

Also Saturday, the navy planned to hold "live fire training" in Luoyuan Bay in Fujian province opposite Taiwan, the local Maritime Authority announced. Ships were banned during the firing, which also was due to take place on five dates over the next two weeks.

Taiwan split with China in 1949 after a civil war. The ruling Communist Party says the island is obliged to rejoin the mainland, by force if necessary. Beijing says contact with foreign officials encourages Taiwanese who want formal independence, a step the ruling party says would lead to war.

"This is a serious warning against the collusion and provocation between the 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces and external forces," said a PLA statement. The "Joint Sword" exercises "defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Plans also called for the exercise to include a destroyer, missile boats, ballistic missiles and land-based anti-ship missiles as well as early warning, electronic warfare and tanker aircraft, according to the The Global Times, a newspaper published by the Communist Party.

The Taiwanese military said missile defense systems were activated and air and sea patrols sent to track the Chinese aircraft.

"We condemn such an irrational act that has jeopardized regional security and stability," a Ministry of Defense statement said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's government has stepped up efforts to intimidate the island by flying fighter jets and bombers nearby and firing missiles into the sea.

The United States has no official relations with Taiwan, a center for high-tech industry and one of the biggest global traders, but maintains extensive informal and commercial ties. Washington is required by federal law to ensure the island of 22 million people has the means to defend itself if China attacks.

Military analysts suggest a possible Chinese strategy in the event of an attack is to try to pressure Taiwan to surrender by blocking sea and air traffic, preventing the United States, Japan or other allies from intervening or sending supplies.

On Saturday, the PLA was testing its ability to dominate the sea, air and information and to "create a situation of deterrence and suppression," the mainland newspaper The China Daily said.

Taiwan and the mainland have multibillion-dollar trade and investment ties but no official relations.

"We will never leave room for 'Taiwan independence' separatist activities in any form and will definitely take resolute measures to defeat any foreign interference," said a spokesperson for the Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhu Fenglian, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

"Complete reunification of our country must be realized, and it can, without doubt, be realized," Zhu was quoted as saying Friday.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press