By HUIZHONG WU
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- China's military declared Monday it is "ready to fight" after completing three days of large-scale combat exercises around Taiwan that simulated sealing off the island in response to the Taiwanese president's trip to the U.S. last week.
The "combat readiness patrols" named Joint Sword were meant as a warning to self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its own, China's military said earlier.
"The theater's troops are ready to fight at all times and can fight at any time to resolutely smash any form of 'Taiwan independence' and foreign interference attempts," it said Monday.
Military experts say the exercises serve both as intimidation and as an opportunity for Chinese troops to practice sealing off Taiwan by blocking sea and air traffic, an important strategic option the Chinese military might pursue in the event it uses military force to take Taiwan.
The Chinese actions follow President Tsai Ing-wen's delicate mission to shore up Taiwan's dwindling diplomatic alliances in Central America and boost its U.S. support, a trip capped with a sensitive meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. A U.S. congressional delegation also met with Tsai over the weekend in Taiwan after she returned.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reiterated the position of President Joe Biden's administration that Tsai's transit through the U.S. and the congressional visit to Taiwan were not out of the norm. Tsai transited through the United States six times between 2016 and 2019.
"There was no reason to react in any way militarily," he said. "There's no reason for tensions across the Taiwan Strait to devolve into any kind of conflict."
China responded immediately to the McCarthy meeting by imposing a travel ban and financial sanctions against those associated with Tsai's U.S. trip and with increased military activity through the weekend.
Beijing says contact between foreign officials and the island's democratic government encourages Taiwanese who want formal independence, a step China's ruling Communist Party says would lead to war. The sides split in 1949 after a civil war, and the Communist Party says the island is obliged to rejoin the mainland, by force if necessary.
Between 6 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday, a total of 70 planes were detected and half crossed the median of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary once tacitly accepted by both sides, according to Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense. By Monday evening, Taiwan's defense ministry reported another 91 flights by bombers, as well as multiple fighter jets, early warning aircraft and military transport planes. That followed a full day between Friday and Saturday in which eight warships and 71 planes were detected near Taiwan, according to the island's Defense Ministry.
Taiwan said it monitored the Chinese moves through its land-based missile systems, as well as from its own navy vessels.
China's military harassment of Taiwan has intensified in recent years with planes or ships sent toward the island on a near-daily basis, with the numbers rising in reaction to sensitive activities.
One of the U.S. representatives who attended the meeting with Tsai last week said Saturday the U.S. must take seriously the threat China poses to Taiwan. Republican Mike Gallagher, chairman of the U.S. House Select Committee on China, told The Associated Press that he plans to lead his committee in working to shore up the island government's defenses, encouraging Congress to expedite military aid to Taiwan.